'Bears' on hunt to get sweet spot

In the sort of crowded weekend that can give distrib execs fits, four wide releases hit theaters this weekend.

DreamWorks is launching “The Island” in 3,122 theaters, Paramount bows “Bad News Bears” at 3,183, Paramount Classics unspools “Hustle & Flow” at 1,013 and Lions Gate begins “The Devil’s Rejects” at 1,757.

Industry expectations, however, are that none of the fresh pics will be able to top last week’s B.O. champ, Warner Bros.’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Strong midweek results for New Line’s “Wedding Crashers” may mean that laffer, too, could hold well in its second frame and outpace the new entrants.

Still, DreamWorks distrib chief Jim Tharp said he thinks there’s plenty of room for all comers. “To me, it seems there’s something for everyone,” he said.

Tharp also noted that holdover biz is not as strong as before. “In years past, you had a lot more movies in the marketplace doing significant business at this point,” he said.

And while Par will be going after the family aud with its PG-13 baseball remake, starring Billy Bob Thornton and helmed by Richard Linklater, distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen thinks “Bears” will skew older than “Charlie,” which is “playing a little younger than what we’re looking for,” he said.

Meanwhile, Paramount Classics is aggressively courting African-American and specialty auds with its wide release strategy for Sundance-darling “Hustle & Flow.”

“We are everywhere in the country,” said label co-chief David Dinerstein, “but we are a little stronger in the South.”

Par Classics paid $9 million at Sundance for worldwide rights to the Craig Brewer penned-and-helmed pic.

Earlier this year, when Lions Gate launched “Crash” with an aggressive 1,864 first-week run, it opened with $9.1 million. Likewise, Sony Pictures Classics took its “Kung Fu Hustle” out aggressively on 2,503 screens in its third week and saw $6.7 million.

“Hustle” is playing on far fewer screens than either of those pics. And though it actually has better tracking numbers than the weekend’s other new films, it’s probably going to open in a similar neighborhood.

Decision to go out wide was spurred by the distrib’s faith that the pic has strong crossover potential. “It plays as well with white audiences as it does with black audiences,” said co-prexy Ruth Vitale. “The film is multicultural and multilayered and speaks to a lot of people.”

“Devil’s Rejects” is rocker Rob Zombie’s follow-up to “House of 1,000 Corpses,” which cumed $12.6 million over the summer of 2003.

In the limited arena, Warner Independent Pictures’ “March of the Penguins” will go for its national break, upping its screen count to 695 in its fifth frame. Nature doc, which was on 132 screens last weekend, has already cumed more than $4 million, keeping its per-screen average above $10,000 every frame so far.

Among the new pics is the first title under the Picturehouse banner, Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days,” which will bow on 12 screens.

Sony Pictures Classics is starting “November” on eight screens in Gotham and L.A., while IFC Films will bow “The Edukators” on two in Gotham.

Starting with solo runs in Gotham are First Run’s “Making Grace” and “Monumental,” as well as Tartan’s “Nine Songs.”

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