High hopes for ‘Madagascar’ sequel

'Role Models,' 'Soul Men' also set to open

DreamWorks Animation and Paramount open “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” in theaters today in what’s expected to be a strong start to the holiday season.

Toon, which bows in 4,056 runs, should score the best opening since summer.

A pair of comedies also open nationwide: Universal’s R-rated “Role Models,” from writer-director David Wain, and MGM/Dimension’s “Soul Men,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac. “Role Models” opens in 2,791 runs; “Soul Men,” 2,044.

On the specialty side, Miramax opens Holocaust drama “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” based on John Boyne’s book, in 17 theaters in eight markets. Pic has done well in some international territories, led by Israel and Spain, but it could be a tougher sell in North America. Foreign cume is $18.8 million.

In marketing “Striped Pajamas,” Miramax has targeted faith-based groups and Jewish orgs, both for the film’s uplifting storyline and historical references.

Also opening in limited runs is Darren Lynn Bousman’s Paris Hilton-Paul Sorvino starrer “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” which Lionsgate takes out in eight theaters.

Most of the attention, however, will go to “Escape 2 Africa,” which many predict will open between $50 million and $60 million, although Par noted that two recent kidpics, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Horton Hears a Who” opened to $44 million and $45 million, respectively.

The first “Madagascar” opened to $47.2 million over Memorial Day weekend in 2005 on its way to cuming $193.6 million domestically and $339 million overseas. “Escape 2 Africa” got off to a stellar start at the international box office last weekend when debuting in Russia and Ukraine.

Studio distributors expect the domestic box office to be especially strong over the next few frames. Next weekend, Sony and MGM open James Bond installment “Quantum of Solace.” On Nov. 21, Disney opens family pic “Bolt,” while Summit Entertainment goes out with “Twilight.” A pack of films opens over the long Thanksgiving weekend, including 20th Century Fox’s epic “Australia.”

This weekend, “Role Models” is the favored No. 2 film. Raunchy comedy will likely dampen traffic for the Weinstein Co.’s R-rated comedy “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” which heads into its second sesh. Last weekend “Zack and Miri” opened to $10 million, a gross “Role Models” is expected to match.

How well “Soul Men” performs depends upon whether it crosses over beyond African-American auds. Comedy is one of Mac’s final film projects. Mac also has one of the voice roles in “Escape 2 Africa.” “Soul Men” and “Role Models” could end up in a close race.

Among holdovers, Disney’s “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” should remain a box office pleaser in its third frame after placing No. 1 the previous two frames. Like “Zack and Miri,” Universal’s “Changeling” heads into its second sesh.

Elsewhere on the specialty side, Roadside Attractions opens horror pic “House” in 362 theaters. Regent releases “The World Unseen” in three runs in New York and L.A., while Peace Arch opens “JCVD” in two theaters in New York.

Lightning releases Amy Redford’s 2008 Sundance entry “The Guitar” in one theater. City Lights’ “Gardens of Night” also opens in one run, as does Cinema Epoch’s “Circulation.”

On the foreign front, “Quantum of Solace” should dominate the sesh as it expands from three markets to 60, moving into China, Russia and South Korea amid a massive worldwide promo campaign that’s sparked worldwide interest. The Bond pic will go from 2,123 playdates to around 10,000.

“Quantum of Solace” dazzled in its launch frame last weekend with $36.8 million from its record-setting British debut along with sky-high numbers in France and Sweden. It’s likely that the Sony-MGM actioner will finish with a foreign gross that matches the $425 million that “Casino Royale” hit.

The three markets that opened last weekend saw their combined “Solace” grosses rise to $54 million as of Wednesday. In addition, in the 10 new markets that saw openings Wednesday, first-day grosses were all higher than for “Casino Royale.”

Paramount is largely holding off on expanding “Escape 2 Africa” except for launches in Hungary and the Philippines. Studio is opting for a staggered release pattern to major markets in the following weekends. Toon smashed records in Russia and Ukraine last weekend and had notched an eye-popping $28.8 million as of Wednesday from those two territories.

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