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Five movies overload Christmas

'Stories,' 'Button,' 'Marley,' 'Spirit,' 'Valkyrie' due

There seem to be too many presents waiting to be unwrapped at the holiday box office, with five pics set to open wide on Christmas Day.

Yet by all indications, many of the titles will work — weather permitting — putting an exclamation point on a year that saw the B.O. stay strong even as the economy buckled.

Film opening on Dec. 25 are Disney’s “Bedtime Stories,” Paramount’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” 20th Century Fox’s “Marley and Me,” Lionsgate’s “The Spirit” and MGM/UA’s “Valkyrie.”

That doesn’t include holiday titles already in the marketplace, including Warner Bros.’ “Yes Man” and Sony’s “Seven Pounds.” Both releases got off to a frosty start over the weekend thanks to a severe winter storm in the Northeast.

Tracking indicates that “Yes Man,” toplining Jim Carrey, should ring up good coin over the holiday because it’s a comedy.

“Seven Pounds” could have more trouble even though it stars Will Smith. On Sunday, Sony’s estimate showed the drama opening at $16 million, but the actual number turned out to be $14.9 million. It’s the lowest opening for a Smith pic in years.

Year to date, the 2008 box office is running even with last year’s record-breaking take of $9.63 billion.

The 2008 race for major studio market share will be won by Warner Bros., which is on the brink of crossing the $1.7 billion mark in box office revs and leap-frogging Sony to become the recordholder for highest-grossing year. Sony collected $1.7 billion in 2006; Warner revs through Sunday were $1.68 billion.

Paramount comes in No. 2. Studio’s revs to date are $1.51 billion. Sony is currently No. 3 ($1.21 billion), followed by Fox (including Fox Searchlight titles, $1.09 billion), Universal ($1.08 billion) and Disney ($921 million)

Aside from the big Christmas openers, there’s plenty of holiday action on the specialty side, which will see several films opening and a number expanding.

On Dec. 26, specialty pics “Revolutionary Road,” from DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage, and Overture’s “Last Chance Harvey” open in limited runs, followed by the Dec. 31 limited bow of “Defiance.”

The two-week Christmas-New Year’s stretch can be a box office bonanza for all involved. It’s particularly ideal when Christmas and New Year’s fall on a Thursday, since it means people won’t work on Friday.

Best bet to win Christmas weekend is “Bedtime Stories,” starring Adam Sandler, since it’s an all-audience and family film.

But there appears to be plenty of opportunity left over for the other titles, at least judging by tracking.

Jennifer Aniston-Owen Wilson comedy “Marley and Me,” based on the bestselling book about a family dog, has a strong shot at coming in No. 2 for the weekend. Movie is tracking strongly among women of all ages, as well as older males (Fox advertised like crazy during Sunday football games).

“Marley” is likely to get families as well, and there’s also the dog-lover factor.

David Fincher’s fantasy romancer “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett — is also tracking strongly among older women, followed by older males and younger women.

Some predict that the surprise performer of the sesh will be Bryan Singer’s Nazi thriller “Valkyrie,” starring Tom Cruise; the aggressive marketing campaign positioning the film as an adult thriller seems to be paying off.

Pic is a top choice among young males and second for older males.

“All these films have their audiences,” one studio exec said.

One title that could be at a disadvantage is “The Spirit,” directed by Frank Miller, should “Valkyrie” steal away male moviegoers.

Historically, theater traffic slows down dramatically on Christmas Eve and doesn’t pick up again until 5 p.m. on Christmas.

Foreign fare

International markets also will see a flurry of openings and expansions starting Wednesday and running through the weekend as distribs take advantage of what’s always one of the heaviest moviegoing periods of the year.

In a test of Sandler’s foreign traction, Disney’s going day-and-date with “Bedtime Stories” via launches in France, Germany, Spain and the U.K. Sandler’s last two comedies — “Click” and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” — both grossed $100 million outside the U.S., his only titles to have done so.

Three other new titles are going day-and-date in just a few markets. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” opens in Australia and New Zealand, “Marley and Me” launches in Brazil, and “The Spirit” debuts in Italy and Spain.

For Fox’s “Australia,” it’s a make-or-break window of opportunity to salvage a disappointing domestic run. It’s adding 45 markets including France, Germany, Mexico, Scandinavia, Spain and the U.K. Baz Luhrmann’s pricey epic has cumed $20 million from four overseas markets, mostly from Australia.

“Seven Pounds” goes into its first foreign market, Brazil, following the massive foreign perfs for the last two Will Smith titles, “Hancock” and “I Am Legend,” with over $700 million outside the U.S. “Frost/Nixon” makes its international debut in Australia.

Other expansions include “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in Australia and South Korea, “Eagle Eye” in France, “Four Christmases” in Norway and Taiwan, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” in Indonesia and Thailand, “The Tale of Despereaux” in Mexico and Russia, and “Yes Man” in the U.K. and Scandinavia.

The “Madagascar” sequel will likely lead the year’s final weekend and may push Paramount past the $2 billion mark in foreign grosses for the year. Par’s already set a studio record with $1.95 billion as of Sunday to lead the big six studios, which are on track to match last year’s $9.5 billion total — an impressive accomplishment given the stronger value of the dollar.

Universal’s also entered record territory with $1.7 billion, demolishing its 1999 mark of $1.16 billion, as “Mamma Mia!” turned out to be the surprise hit of the year with more than $428 million.

Fox, which had a strong first half, is currently at $1.5 billion. Sony’s at $1.37 billion, finishing with “Quantum of Solace” at $375 million.

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