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Prestige pics battle at B.O.

Nolan pic takes on 'Flags,' 'Marie'

Clint Eastwood’s WWII epic “Flags of Our Fathers” will have to fight off Christopher Nolan’s magic-themed period piece “The Prestige” this weekend as studios start rolling out their big guns in the slog toward awards contention.

Also entering the fray will be Sony’s Sofia Coppola-helmed “Marie Antoinette,” the hipster twist on the story of the French queen that will target a mix of younger auds and arthouse denizens as it opens in just 859 engagements.

Sony also has another upmarket awards hopeful hitting screens, the lit adaptation “Running With Scissors,” which starts its fall platform run in eight markets.

Fox is counterprogramming with family pic “Flicka” in 2,877 playdates as the frame’s widest new rollout. Pic butts up against Disney’s 3-D release of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which hits in time for Halloween at 168 engagements.

But frontrunners “Flags” and “Prestige” both face challenges in their effort to replace Sony horror sequel “The Grudge 2” at the top of the charts.

“Flags” will roll out on just 1,800 screens — 481 less than “Prestige” — since Paramount has chosen to take a slow-and-steady release path, rather than try a blitz, based on Eastwood’s track record.

Par brass said they have targeted 1,800 engagements by looking at the behavior of Eastwood’s 2003 effort “Mystic River,” which opened on 1,470 to take in $10.4 million on its way to $90 million-plus.

Venerable helmer’s follow-up, “Million Dollar Baby,” bowed in 2004 in 2,000 playdates, nailing a $12.3 million first frame before wrapping up $100.5 million and a best pic Oscar.

Par will be happy with a finish in the low eight figures for “Flags,” which will skew toward older males.

Meanwhile, “Prestige,” opening in 2,281 playdates, comes on the heels of another, unexpectedly popular pic with magic themes, the Yari Group’s “The Illusionist.” Edward Norton starrer has performed above expectations, taking in $36.5 million to date.

“Prestige” could very well conjure a young demo with stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.

But still standing in the way is Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” the starry Warner Bros. cop drama that slid a scant 31% to land at No. 2 last frame.

“Departed” — which has taken in $60 million to date — is likely to become Scorsese’s highest-grossing pic ever, and Warners execs say they are looking for more coin come awards time as the pic is being buzzed about as a kudos catcher.

A number of smaller pics will gut it out in the arthouse ghetto, including IDP’s Sundance comedy “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” IFC Films’ import “Requiem” and 7th Art’s docu “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.”

On the foreign front, Fox’s “The Devil Wears Prada” looks likely to win for the third straight weekend given its solid overseas perf and respectable holds in major markets. It’s launching in New Zealand and Sweden, with second frames in Germany and Italy.

“Prada” had cumed $83.5 million offshore and $207 million worldwide as of Wednesday.

UIP’s launching a major expansion of “Children of Men” with openings in Australia, Belgium, France and Spain. Sci-fi thriller, which won’t debut Stateside until Christmas, has cumed $8.6 million in the U.K. after four weeks.

Sony is opening “Marie Antoinette” in the U.K. day-and-date with its domestic launch. The Kirsten Dunst vehicle took in $7 million in France, $500,000 in Belgium and $300,000 in Holland after launching in May.

“The Prestige” is debuting day-and-date in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. Other openings include UIP’s “Barnyard” in the U.K., “The Grudge 2” in Holland and the U.K., Fox’s “Little Miss Sunshine” in Brazil, UIP’s “Nacho Libre” in Germany, Sony’s “Open Season” in France and UIP’s “World Trade Center” in Argentina and Hong Kong.

“WTC” has cumed $62 million overseas, led by $10.3 million in Japan and $8.2 million in the U.K.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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