A very big window pain

Soderbergh pic bursts out on theaters, DVD, cable

All eyes this weekend will be on a little movie playing at just 34 playdates.

Despite several wide bows and expansions, studios will be looking to see if Magnolia Pictures has success with the Steven Soderbergh-helmed “Bubble.”

Pic opens the same day it airs on cabler HDNet Movies and just four days before it hits homevideo.

Of course, the success or failure of a low-budget pic with amateur actors won’t necessarily prove how important windows are for mainstream studio fare. And it’s only playing for one week in a handful of theaters nationwide (one in L.A. — the Nuart).

But partisans on both sides of the debate over collapsing windows are sure to leap on a success or failure.

“There isn’t anybody in town who isn’t going to want to see how this does,” Universal distrib prexy Nikki Rocco noted.

While Magnolia, which is owned by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban along with partner Todd Wagner, previously released docu “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” simultaneously in theaters and on their HDNet Movies cable net, “Bubble” will be the first to also hit homevid the same week, as well as the first from a well-known director.

Only other pic to try a similar release strategy was Neverland Films’ “Noel,” which had a limited theatrical release Nov. 12, 2004; aired once on TNT on Nov. 28 while still in theaters; and was available on Amazon.com in the defunct Flexplay disposable DVD format. Pic didn’t even report domestic grosses, indicating it didn’t make much of a splash.

Major chains refuse to play pics that don’t have a delay before hitting other windows. As a result, 19 of “Bubble’s” 32 playdates are part of the Landmark chain owned by Cuban and Wagner. The duo has promised to give the 15 indie exhibs playing “Bubble” a small percentage of homevideo revenues.

Pic is the first of six Soderbergh is directing for Magnolia Pictures and HDNet Films that will be released simultaneously in theaters, on cable and on DVD.

Execs from major studios and exhibs, as well as a number of big-name directors have already weighed in against the plan in the press, arguing it could hurt the aesthetic experience of filmgoing and the business of movie distribution. Cuban has lashed back against detractors on his blog.

“No one even remotely associated with the industry even attempted to spin the situation,” Cuban wrote Wednesday. “No one attempted to leverage the publicity (except for us of course) to their advantage. No one used it as a platform to say a single solitary positive word about theaters and the theatergoing experience. They stood up and indirectly said … our product sucks … we can’t survive without help.”

Meanwhile, the frame is expected to be dominated by Fox’s “Big Momma’s House 2,” while Disney and U have light expectations for “Annapolis” and “Nanny McPhee,” respectively. In addition, Weinstein Co. is taking “The Matador” wide, “Brokeback Mountain” hits another 458 playdates and WB is re-expanding “Syriana” following George Clooney’s Golden Globes win.

In addition, after a weak run Stateside, “Munich” gets the chance to redeem itself overseas this frame.

With “Underworld: Evolution” expected to take a sizable second-week drop, as is typical for the genre, Martin Lawrence starrer “Big Momma’s House 2” should take the B.O. crown with a gross expected in the high teens.

Sequel, which bows at 3,261 theaters, is tracking extremely well among African-Americans and solidly with family auds.

Original “Big Momma’s House” opened to $25.7 million in June of 2000 and went on to cume $117.6 million domestic and $174 million worldwide.

“Annapolis” is playing at 1,605 playdates.

Family pic “McPhee,” meanwhile, gets 1,995 plays and will draw on parents with young kids.

As it grows to 1,652 playdates, “Brokeback Mountain” will compete as well. Golden Globe winner hits a number of small cities like Hastings, Neb., Killen, Texas, and Joplin, Mo., this frame, as well as pushing further into the suburbs.

“Brokeback,” which took in an impressive $6.7 million at 910 screens last weekend in 10 markets overseas, opened solidly in Australia on Thursday with $370,330 at 47 playdates for the best per-screen average in the top 10.

Frame’s big story internationally is “Munich.” While it has been a disappointment domestically, with $38 million after a month in theaters, the international settings plus Steven Spielberg’s track record on the foreign front indicate that it should get much more traction in offshore markets.

UIP is launching “Munich” into 30 markets — including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K..

Pic gets a wide opening in Germany, on 400 playdates, which should help it benefit from extensive coverage it has received there given the controversial subject matter.

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