Widening nominees, new pix vie

Will a slew of expanding Oscar nominees put the squeeze on new releases at the B.O. this weekend?

With distributors fired up by their recently announced noms, pics including “Dreamgirls,” “The Departed” and “Babel” will all make aggressive moves to grab the spotlight from new fare. Also expanding and making the movie market even tighter will be Picturehouse’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Fox Searchlight’s “Notes on a Scandal” and Sony Classics’ “Volver,” all Oscar nommed as well.

But away from such high-end fare and aiming for more mainstream auds will be wide studio releases “Epic Movie” (Fox), “Smokin’ Aces” (Universal) and “Catch and Release” (Sony).

Even with the firepower of noms behind them, the Oscar faves could have some hurdles in their way.

Warner Bros.’ “Departed” — which relaunches this weekend in 1,453 locations — has already taken in $121.8 million. It remains to be seen how many more available fans the violent, R-rated pic can reel in.

Paramount and DreamWorks’ “Dreamgirls,” meanwhile, was showered with Oscar noms, but not for best pic or director. Being overlooked in those key categories could detract from interest. The musical heads from 2,214 locations to 2,785. It has taken in $79.3 million in six weeks of release.

Par Vantage’s starry ensembler “Babel,” which will expand to 1,090 locales from 889, has found much critical praise but hasn’t yet been able to ignite auds. R-rated pic has taken in less than $25 million since its bow in late October. It was generating a per-playdate average of just $2,331 in its last frame, but its seven noms could add some heat this weekend.

Among new rollouts, Fox will go widest with “Epic Movie,” the comedy from “Scary Movie” franchise scribes Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Rolling out in just over 2,800 theaters, pic will skew toward young males.

Also trying to bring in that demo will be Universal shoot-’em-up “Smokin’ Aces.” Pic from “Narc” helmer Joe Carnahan will hit 2,204.

Sony’s “Catch and Release,” starring Jennifer Garner as a woman dealing with the death of her fiance, rolls into 1,622, aimed at a female aud.

MGM also has a new wide rollout in “Blood and Chocolate,” a werewolf pic from “Iron Jawed Angels” helmer Katja von Garnier.

On the specialty circuit, the Weinstein Co. rolls out Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering” in limited release, while Samuel Goldwyn bows “Seraphim Falls,” a Western starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson.

But the specialty circuit, too, is clogged with pics that have received Oscar attention, including “Last King of Scotland” and “The Queen.”

On the foreign front, the frame represents something of a make-or-break weekend for “Dreamgirls” and “Blood Diamond” as both try to leverage their Oscar noms via major expansions.

“Dreamgirls,” which launched internationally last weekend in Australia and New Zealand with $1.1 million, moves into Italy, Mexico and Spain. Paramount Pictures Intl. will expand the musical into Germany and the U.K. next frame.

“Blood Diamond,” which drew actor noms for Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou, expands into Germany, Holland, Italy and the U.K. “Diamond” has cumed $13 million overseas in 16 markets for Warner Bros., led by Australia with $4 million in three weeks and South Korea with $2 million in two weeks.

Sony’s expanding “The Pursuit of Happyness” into Japan with hopes of leveraging Will Smith’s Oscar nom.

Paramount’s re-releasing “Babel” in Mexico at about 150 playdates following its seven Oscar noms and is launching the pic in Colombia and Venezuela. “Babel” has cumed more than $45 million internationally, almost double its domestic cume.

Fox is launching Mel Gibson’s Mayan epic “Apocalypto” in its home turf in Mexico with 300 prints amid expectations of a No. 1 opening. “Apocalypto,” which is also opening in Brazil and Taiwan, has cumed $36 million overseas, mostly via European markets.

Fox’s sturdy “Night at the Museum,” which has won four straight weekends, should remain a player thanks to its launch in Spain. “Museum” had hit nearly $178 million offshore as of Wednesday to lift worldwide total to $384 million.

Fox is also opening “Epic Movie” day and date in Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand. On opening day Thursday in Australia, the spoof took in an impressive $690,000 at 206, three times bigger than the No. 2 pic, “Deja Vu.”

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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