Warner Bros. film looks to win the weekend

Just how many B.O. bucks can Warner Bros.’ stylized battle pic “300” pillage this weekend?

Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, movie has certainly galvanized Internet fanboys, and Miller began a solid track record with his previous pic, “Sin City” — April’s biggest ever R-rated opening at $29.1 million.

But “300” has also somehow piqued the interest of the intelligentsia: The New York Times ran a news piece this week debating whether the latest project by “Dawn of the Dead” helmer Zack Snyder subtextually critiques — or kowtows to — American foreign policies under the Bush administration.

Based on such wide-ranging reactions, the bloody, R-rated film, which depicts the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, has the potential to cross over from the Miller faithful.

Also in “300’s” favor this weekend: The movie has the multiplex battlefield largely to itself as the frame’s only new wide release in just over 3,100 theaters.

Online ticket service Fandango was reporting Thursday that 92% of its advance orders for the weekend were for “300.” Site said Imax shows for “300” were selling out particularly fast, and that three theaters in California were adding 2:30 a.m. screenings as a result.

Miller has a cult following that certainly knows its way around cyberspace, and Internet chatter on the pic has been high.

Then again, movies with Internet buzz have met with mixed results over the past year as New Line’s “Snakes on a Plane” slithered into obscurity, but Fox’s “Borat” hit socko returns.

People close to Warners said the studio is looking for a debut of $30 million-plus, but B.O. pundits are speculating that the film — made in conjunction with Legendary Pictures and Virtual Studios — could hit loftier heights.

Biggest ever R-rated opener in March was “Scream 3,” which cut up $34.7 million in 2000.

Studio is going day-and-date in just five territories with “300,” including, appropriately, Greece, as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

Pic will launch next weekend in its first major overseas market, South Korea, then expand significantly over the March 23 frame to France, Holland, Italy, Mexico and the U.K.

Also looking to guzzle B.O. over the frame will be last weekend’s domestic No. 1, Disney’s “Wild Hogs,” which looks to pull in a different demo than the “300” crowd, and Paramount’s serial killer pic “Zodiac.”

Pics opening in more limited release over the frame include “The Ultimate Gift,” which will aim for the faith-based crowd at 816 locations, as well as Magnolia’s Asian horror import “The Host,” which rolls into 74.

Magnolia’s also opening the credit-crisis docu “Maxed Out.”

IFC has no fewer than three films hitting screens this weekend, including sports drama “Believe in Me,” racy French import “The Exterminating Angels” and Rwandan genocide tale “Beyond the Gates.”

Fox Searchlight stakes out six screens for Mira Nair’s multiculti “The Namesake.”

On the foreign front, BVI launches “Wild Hogs” into its first foreign markets this weekend with debuts in Australia and New Zealand. Laffer will move into Euro markets next month.

But Sony’s “Ghost Rider” has a good chance at winning its fourth straight international weekend as it moves into Hong Kong and Portugal. As of Wednesday, “Rider” had cumed about $64 million overseas in 50 markets and $160 million worldwide.

Paramount’s “Norbit” will likely challenge for the top spot with launches in Brazil, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia and the U.K. As of Wednesday, the Eddie Murphy vehicle had cumed nearly $10 million overseas in seven markets, led by Mexico with $3 million and Australia with $2.9 million.

Warner’s “Music and Lyrics” will seek out romantic comedy fans via openings in Germany and Mexico. Foreign cume is more than $32 million from 18 markets, led by $16 million in the U.K., and should soon match the $39 million domestic total.

Other notable openings this weekend include “Epic Movie” in Spain, “The Fountain” in Mexico and Spain, “The Last King of Scotland” in Japan, “Notes on a Scandal” in Argentina and Russia, “Pathfinder” in Germany and “Smokin’ Aces” in Belgium and South Korea.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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