Thanksgiving box office offers feast

Seven wide releases compete for audiences

Offering everything from a princess to a menacing mist to a child prodigy, the five-day Thanksgiving box office will be the most crowded on record as seven wide releases unspool today domestically.

Crowded pack includes Disney’s “Enchanted” (3,632 runs); Dimension Films’ horror entry “The Mist,” distributed by MGM (2,423); 20th Century Fox’s bigscreen vidgame adaptation “Hitman” (2,401); Warner Bros.’ family title “August Rush” (2,280); Sony’s “This Christmas” (1,856); and the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” which Miramax takes nationwide into 860 theaters.

On the limited side, the Weinstein Co. opens director Todd Haynes’ experimental Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” in 130 locations in 61 key markets. Cast includes Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger.

That doesn’t include films fresh off their openings, such as Paramount and Shangri-La Entertainment’s 3-D epic “Beowulf” and Fox-Walden’s G-rated family entry “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” both of which unspooled last weekend. “Beowulf” won the frame with a haul of $28.1 million, while “Wonder Emporium” grossed $9.7 million.

Distributors have received a crash course this fall on what it means to have too many movies. They skedded numerous releases for September and October, particularly on the specialty side, but auds were underwhelmed, and the box office took a surprise downturn after the record-breaking summer.

Many attribute the lackluster B.O. to a glut of serious adult dramas. Thus, with most of the Thanksgiving titles more commercial in scope, distributors are hopeful that the five-day window will see strong holiday traffic.

But there are sure to be casualties as some titles fight for the same aud.

“I don’t know what people think has happened to our business that it can withstand this number of releases,” one distrib topper said.

Thanksgiving is one of the premiere family-going frames of the year. This year, there’s a wealth of family titles, so it’s going to be tough going for some, although “Enchanted” stands apart. Film, which ups its total theater count to 3,730 on Friday, is predicted to win the entire holiday frame.

“Enchanted” could prove something of a curse for “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” and “August Rush,” which also have DreamWorks Animation’s “Bee Movie” to contend with. “Bee,” which beat “Wonder Emporium” this past weekend, continues to buzz happily at the B.O. heading into its fourth frame.

After “Enchanted,” the Thanksgiving stretch should be a horse race for the top spots. “Hitman” is tracking strongly in the coveted young male demo, although it will have “Beowulf” to compete with, as well as “Mist.” And, going for the African-American aud, Sony is hoping to post strong holiday numbers with “This Christmas.”

A creative twist on the traditional Disney princess story, “Enchanted” begins in traditional, hand-drawn animation before the princess is banished to a live-action, modern-day New York.

Pic, which has taken almost a decade to get to the bigscreen, also stars Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon. Kevin Lima directed from a script by Bill Kelly; Barry Josephson and Barry Sonnenfeld produced.

Disney has relied on the Thanksgiving frame for years. In 2004, Mouse House used the holiday to unspool “National Treasure.”

“August Rush,” directed by Kirsten Sheridan, follows two musicians who are torn apart after a brief encounter, leaving their baby orphaned in New York City. The boy uses his exceptional musical talent as a clue to finding his parents. Film, which ups its total theater count to 2,301 on Friday, stars Freddie Highmore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell and Robin Williams.

The R-rated “Hitman” is based on the popular vidgame franchise of the same name and stars Timothy Olyphant as the genetically altered hitman named Agent 37. Pic, which has been tracking strongly for its genre, will compete with “Beowulf,” which opened at $28.1 million. “Hitman,” directed by Xavier Gens, also stars Dougray Scott and Olga Kurylenko.

Also going after younger moviegoers is Frank Darabont’s “The Mist,” based on a story by horrormeister Stephen King and starring Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher and Marcia Gay Harden. MGM is distributing the film per its deal with the Weinstein Co.’s Dimension. Story concerns a small community that comes under attack by a thick, evil mist.

Directed by Preston Whitmore, “This Christmas” features an ensemble cast that includes Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Loretta Devine and Nia Long, as well as recording hip-hop/pop music star Chris Brown. Story follows a family that all comes together after years of separation.Sony believes “This Christmas” could have crossover potential.

The highest-grossing Thanksgiving pic is “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which cooked up $81.2 million over the five-day holiday frame in 2005 after opening at $102.7 million the previous weekend.

In 2005, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” grossed $73.5 million over the five-day Thanksgiving stretch.

Last year, four pics bowed on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, including Disney’s “Deja Vu” and Fox’s “Deck the Halls,” which were outperformed over the five-day holiday frame by holdovers “Happy Feet” and “Casino Royale,” both of which opened the weekend of Nov. 17-19. For the five-day holiday stretch, “Happy Feet” grossed $50.6 million over the five days, while “Royale” rolled in $44.8 million.

In other limited releases, Roadside Attractions bows “Starting Out in the Evening” in seven locations. Directed by Andrew Wagner and based on the novel by Brian Morton, film stars Lauren Ambrose and Frank Langella. Story revolves around a young woman who believes her thesis can return her professor to the limelight.

International menu

On the foreign front, “Beowulf” should score its second weekend victory via a major expansion into France, Mexico, Russia and Spain. Warner Bros. saw a solid launch last frame for the fantasy actioner with $17.3 million in 13 markets.

Universal’s “American Gangster” should also be a player as it expands into Norway and Sweden after racking up more than $14 million last weekend in its first major foreign foray.

Disney’s going day and date with “Enchanted” in eight markets, including Indonesia, Russia and Spain. Studio plans a gradual release pattern over the next few weeks as it aims to make the pic into the year-end must-see for family audiences.

Fox will also go day-and-date with “Hitman” in much of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Strategy’s designed to take advantage of strong markets for action and to minimize the impact of pervasive piracy.

Fox is also launching “Lions for Lambs” in France following a modest reception in international markets during the past two frames. And it’s opening “The Darjeeling Limited” in its first offshore territories with launches in Brazil and the U.K.

Universal continues to be among the most active distribs with expansions of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” into eight markets, including South Korea and Turkey, and “The Kingdom,” also into eight territories led by Brazil and Spain.

Paramount is expanding “The Heartbreak Kid” into Australia and Hong Kong. Pic has surpassed $52 million in the middle of its foreign run.

“Saw IV” goes into France, South Korea and Switzerland with nearly $40 million banked already from 27 foreign markets.

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