Fox moves up start date for Willis film

Retrofitting its action franchise after a lengthy absence, Fox is looking to Bruce Willis starrer “Live Free or Die Hard” to do some hard living at the box office. Pic opens today.

Fox moved up the release by two days to provide some extra room before Michael Bay’s robot actioner “Transformers” starts some performances Monday night ahead of its official opening Tuesday.

This weekend is shaping up to be a race between “Die Hard” and Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” although the toon is predicted to have a strong shot at No. 1 for the three days, particularly since “Die Hard” is opening early and spreading out its take over five days.

Not surprisingly, “Die Hard” is tracking strongest among older women and men. Many in the coveted young male category weren’t even alive when the first “Die Hard” debuted in 1988, catapulting Willis to stardom as reluctant hero and macho cop John McClane.

Studio execs say the new edition stands on its own, and auds don’t need to have seen any of the three previous “Die Hard” installments; they’re hoping that younger moviegoers go for the nonstop action and retro feel.

Both “Die Hard” and “Ratatouille” are drawing strong notices. Disney’s big challenge with “Ratatouille” is to manage expectations: Toons and family films don’t always open like gangbusters but rake in the dough over the long haul. And the new toon — the first Pixar pic since the company was acquired by Disney — will have to measure up to the $60.1 million opening number for “Cars,” Pixar’s last movie, which bowed in June 2006. And many B.O. pundits labeled that bow a disappointment because it didn’t match the opening of “The Incredibles,” though “Cars” drove on to a healthy $462 million worldwide cume.

“Ratatouille” also will be vying for the family audience with Universal’s “Evan Almighty,” which heads into its second weekend.

On the specialty side, the Weinstein Co. expands Michael Moore’s docu “Sicko” to 441 screens through Lionsgate. Film played one Gotham theater last weekend, posting $69,000 in receipts. Film also played in 43 sneak peaks across the country Saturday night.

Offering some counter-programming, Focus Features is taking a more wide approach in bowing female drama “Evening,” about a woman on her deathbed who recounts her romantic past to her two daughters. Film, which will play in 906 venues in the U.S., stars Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave and her real-life daughter Natasha Richardson, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Meryl Streep and her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer.

Fox is working hard to persuade young males to give “Die Hard” a try. Pic positions Willis’ character as an analog holdover fighting for justice in a digital world. Justin Long plays a young hacker who aids McClane in stopping a terrorist takeover.

Pic’s budget was reportedly $110 million.

The previous installment in the lucrative franchise, “Die Hard: With a Vengeance,” bowed in 1995.

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