Fright vs. light at box office

'Hannibal' rises up against 'Norbit'

Will Hannibal Lecter still have bite at the B.O. this weekend?

The previous three pics featuring the cannibalistic serial killer — “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Red Dragon” and “Hannibal” — have been worth a combined $388.9 million at the domestic wickets.

Standing in the way of latest entry “Hannibal Rising” will be “Norbit,” the latest urban-skewing comedy to see funnyman Eddie Murphy take on a series of latex-enhanced roles a la “The Nutty Professor” franchise.

Paramount and DreamWorks’ comedy will be the weekend’s widest new release at 3,136 theaters.

R-rated “Hannibal” hits 3,003.

“Norbit” is tracking strongly with African-American auds, and data suggest the PG-13 pic has the potential to draw eyeballs in all quadrants.

But “Hannibal” is tracking well with males, both over and under 25, suggesting the Hannibal brand still has pull.

Pic was penned by the character’s creator, Thomas Harris, who could bring in fans of his books.

Bloodthirsty teen version of Hannibal, however, is played by Gaspard Ulliel, rather than Anthony Hopkins, who made the devious doc a household name.

After some false starts, burgeoning MGM is hoping it can follow the success late last year of “Rocky Balboa” with handy “Hannibal” box office. Pic comes from the Weinstein Co., which is looking for a solid debut for a commercial film after its recent artier efforts have struggled.

“Hannibal Rising” also may generate some heat through day-and-date launches in France and the U.K. via local distribs. The 2001 “Hannibal” was a solid offshore performer, eating up more than $180 million.

Murphy, meanwhile, is riding high on an Oscar nom for “Dreamgirls,” in release via Paramount and DreamWorks. Last comedy the thesp toplined, Disney’s “Haunted Mansion,” conjured under $76 million.

Broad comedies have been working well of late at the B.O.: Fox’s “Epic Movie” and “Night at the Museum” are still in the heart of the top 10. And Universal’s “Because I Said So” could continue to draw female auds who don’t necessarily see pics in their opening frames.

Some Oscar-nominated films will expand in a bid to capture attention before the envelopes are opened.

Picturehouse’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” will move to 1,143, up from 1,082 locations. And Warner Bros. will move “Letters From Iwo Jima” up to 781 from 720.

Both pics have been picking up steam, but no one Oscar-nommed film seems to be grabbing all the headlines this year.

On the arthouse circuit, Sony Classics — which has Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” in theaters — will roll out German nominee “The Lives of Others” on 13 screens.

And TWC will move its Anthony Minghella-helmed “Breaking and Entering” to 22.

On the foreign front, Sony will be looking to repeat last weekend’s victory for “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which has shown respectable holding power in major markets thanks to the combo of Will Smith’s star power and his Oscar nom.

“Happyness” is expanding into 20 midsized markets, such as Belgium, Norway, Poland and the Middle East. It had cumed $77 million internationally from two dozen territories as of Wednesday, pushing the worldwide total to $235 million.

Fox’s “Museum,” which won five straight weekends at the international box office before finishing a close second last weekend, will remain a significant player overseas. It’s opening in Denmark and France; foreign total has topped $215 million, trailing domestic cume by $10 million.

Warner’s “Blood Diamond” also will offer competition as the thriller takes advantage of Leonardo DiCaprio’s offshore drawing power as well as pic’s Oscar noms. It’s opening in Mexico and Spain after coming in third last weekend with $13.8 million in 51 markets; foreign cume should go well past the domestic total of $53 million this weekend.

Sony’s looking to continue cashing in on “Casino Royale” in China, where the eight-day total as of Tuesday hit $6.5 million. Foreign cume is $417.8 million; pic has matched “Spider-Man” as the 21st highest foreign grosser of all time.

Paramount is launching “Charlotte’s Web” into France, South Korea and the U.K. this weekend after taking in $26 million from 33 markets. Fox is expanding “Epic Movie” into South Africa and the U.K., “Rocky Balboa” into Germany and Brazil and “The Last King of Scotland” into Belgium, Mexico and the Netherlands.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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