Franchise on track for strong weekend

Bruce Willis starrer “Live Free or Die Hard” took an estimated $9.1 million on its first day, giving renewed shine to the long-absent 20th Century Fox franchise.

Willis scored the best first-day opening for a live-action pic he’s toplined since Michael Bay’s 1998 “Armageddon” ($9.7 million in its July 1, 1998 bow), according to Rentrak. “Armageddon” had an advantage in that it opened one week later over the July Fourth holiday frame.

“Live Free” made more on its first day than any of the three previous “Die Hard” installments. Fox decided to open the film midweek to make way for Bay’s “Transformers,” which begins playing in theaters Monday night before officially opening Tuesday.

Fox execs say the exit polls for “Live Free” are the strongest they’ve seen for one of their films in recent memory. They say the pic, directed by Len Wiseman, is crossing over with younger men and women and not just attracting older moviegoers who saw the previous installments in theaters.

This weekend, “Live Free” will be in a race for No. 1 with Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” even though they play to very different auds.

The Weinstein Co. expands Michael Moore’s docu “Sicko” to 441 theaters in a nontraditional rollout designed to build word of mouth in major cities and other key markets across the country. Film, an indictment of the U.S. health care system, played one venue in Gotham last weekend and sneaked in 43 locations across the country Saturday night.

Addressing expectations, TWC says “Sicko” can’t be compared with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the highest-grossing docu of all time, which rode the post-9/11 liberal political zeitgeist. Rather, “Sicko” is more comparable with Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” or the Al Gore-narrated docu “An Inconvenient Truth,” according to the distrib.

The weekend’s other wide release will be Focus Features’ female-centric drama “Evening,” which plays in just over 900 theaters in the U.S.

Overseas, “Live Free” is going day-and-date in three dozen markets, while “Transformers” opens ahead of its U.S. launch in 10 territories. Also, “Shrek the Third” expands into Japan and the U.K.

“Live Free” opens in Germany, Japan, Russia and Scandinavia, with France, Mexico and the U.K. launching the following weekend. Expectations are fairly high, with the last film in the franchise, “Die Hard: With a Vengeance,” taking in more than $260 million for BVI outside the U.S.

Par is launching Michael Bay’s “Transformers” into Australia, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea and half a dozen other Asian markets. 

Also going day-and-date in some territories is “Ratatouille,” which BVI unspools in Chile, Colombia, Russia and the Ukraine. Pixar releases have performed well outside the U.S., and the pic’s Paris setting may help it gain traction in foreign markets.

“Evan Almighty,” which has opened in Russia and the Ukraine only, goes into Lithuania, while Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” opens in Hong Kong, its 11th market. Foreign grosses for the latter have totaled a modest $10 million, mostly from France and Italy.

“Shrek the Third,” which has led internationally for the past two frames, hit $189 million in foreign grosses from 45 markets as of Wednesday. Paramount’s adding the two largest foreign markets — Japan and the U.K. — this weekend, in addition to Hong Kong, Poland and South Africa.

The Mouse House’s sixth frame of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” should also be a significant factor this weekend after grossing more than $20 million last frame. The third “Pirates” pic had taken in $590 million internationally and $879.2 million globally as of Wednesday, becoming the seventh biggest ever in foreign grosses and 11th worldwide.

Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Thirteen” opens in Mexico, while Fox’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” rides into Brazil.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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