Award winners seeing longer runs

With only one new wide release this weekend — Rogue’s frightener “The Hitcher,” bowing at 2,831 theaters — most of the activity this weekend will be for kudos contenders expanding to take advantage of this week’s Golden Globes awards and Tuesday’s Oscar nominations announcement.

Miramax’s “The Queen,” for which Helen Mirren won actress (drama) at the Globes, is making the most dramatic expansion, jumping from 344 screens to 1,586, which will be the widest point of release in its 17-week run. Also expanding are Paramount Vantage’s “Babel,” which will go from 173 to 889 screens after winning best dramatic film at the Globes; Picturehouse’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is going from 194 screens to 609; after Forest Whitaker won a Globe, Fox Searchlight’s “The Last King of Scotland” will go from four screens to 495; and Warner Bros.’ Globe winner for foreign film, Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” will get a bump from 35 to 360 theaters.

In addition, Paramount and DreamWorks’ “Dreamgirls,” which is going into the weekend with a cume of $69 million, will get a bump from 1,907 theaters to 2,214 this weekend after winning best picture in the comedy/musical Globes category.

“Obviously with the publicity we received from the Golden Globes, we wanted to expand by another few hundred runs,” said Par distrib topper Jim Tharp. Though the film is now in national release, he said new screens will mostly be in existing markets, “but we’re adding some smaller markets.”

All the expansions, along with strong holdovers including last week’s B.O. champ Sony’s “Stomp the Yard” and Fox’s holiday hit “Night at the Museum,” as well as Sony’s “The Pursuit of Happyness,” make for a hard-to-predict frame.

Because of the three-day weekend for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which helps Sunday grosses, falloffs should be steep this weekend.

Sony distrib chief Rory Bruer said, “You hope for the best because of course you’re going to get an inflated drop just because of the holiday weekend, but the exits (on ‘Stomp the Yard’) were so good that we’re hopeful that it’ll continue to play well.”

While many of the pics in the market, including “Stomp” and the prestige pic expansions, are skewing slightly older, Rogue’s “Hitcher” is tracking better with the under-25 crowd that tends to support horror pics.

On the foreign front, Fox’s “Night at the Museum” probably will win its fourth consecutive weekend. “Museum” has been a tonic for the 2007 international box office with solid results in every market, led by the U.K. with $33 million-plus and South Korea with $27 million.

“Museum” had totaled $157.3 million overseas from 38 markets and nearly $350 million worldwide as of Wednesday. It’s launching this weekend in Argentina, Chile, Poland and Romania but hasn’t opened yet in France, Italy, Japan or Spain.

Fox, which led all distribs in 2006 with nearly $2 billion in foreign grosses, should continue to see decent holdover biz from “Eragon” and “Rocky Balboa.” “Eragon” has performed far better outside the United States, hitting $155.8 million internationally as of Wednesday, more than double its domestic cume. “Rocky” has punched up $12 million from six foreign markets and will launch in the U.K. and Holland this weekend.

The weekend also will see “Dreamgirls” in its first foreign launches as the newly minted Paramount Pictures Intl. attempts to leverage its three Golden Globes wins with openings in Australia and New Zealand. Par’s also expanding Globe winner “Babel” — which has nearly $40 million overseas — into Argentina, Brazil and the U.K.

“The Departed,” which has completed its run in most foreign markets, will launch in Japan after grossing nearly $130 million overseas and $250 million worldwide. Pic is due for a domestic re-release next weekend on more than 1,500 screens ahead of its February DVD release.

Sony’s expanding “The Pursuit of Happyness” into Austria, Germany and Switzerland this weekend after the Will Smith starrer launched last weekend with more than $12 million via No. 1 finishes in Australia, Italy and the U.K. It’s also set to see “Casino Royale” become the 23rd pic to cross the $400 million mark in foreign grosses.

Other launches include “Apocalypto” in Denmark, Greece and Spain; “Deja Vu” in Australia and Brazil; “Flags of Our Fathers” in Austria and Germany; “The History Boys” in France; “The Illusionist” in France; “John Tucker Must Die” in Germany; and “Miss Potter” in Taiwan.

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