'Journey,' 'Meet Dave' also enter frame

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” will try to do hellish business at the weekend box office and overtake holdover “Hancock,” although it could be tough.

Two PG family films also enter the scene — 3-D action-adventure “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and Eddie Murphy comedy “Meet Dave” — but neither has significant buzz, particularly the latter.

Universal opens “Golden Army” in 3,204 theaters, while 20th Century Fox and New Regency unspool “Dave” in 3,011.

“Journey,” produced by New Line and Walden Media, will see the widest release yet for a 3-D pic. Warner Bros. opens the film in 854 theaters equipped with digital 3-D screens, as well as 1,957 conventional runs. Last fall, there were only 656 digital 3-D screens up and running when Paramount opened Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf” in 3,153 runs.

“Beowulf” opened to $27.5 million on its way to cuming $82.2 million in the U.S., but higher-priced 3-D tickets, which cost $3-$4 more than a normal ducat, generated a significant chunk of the pic’s overall gross.

“Journey’s” appeal is that it’s the first-live action film shot in digital 3-D to be released in theaters; it’s also for kids. “Beowulf,” which was rated PG-13 and played older, was shot with motion-capture technology.

“Journey,” based on the classic Jules Verne tale, isn’t expected to open as big as “Beowulf” but is predicted to outperform “Dave.” Warners believes “Journey” will have good playability.

Tracking is tepid at best for “Dave,” which could bring Murphy his lowest opening gross since the ill-fated “Adventures of Pluto Nash” in 2002. “Dave” may not hit the $10 million mark this weekend, although it could have an advantage in playing to smaller tots.

Murphy, who’s loath to do much press for his films, didn’t turn up for the premiere of “Dave” in Westwood earlier this week after he requested that Fox and New Regency throw the bash.

“Dave” features Murphy playing two roles: a spaceship made to look human and the ship’s miniature alien captain.

With a production budget around $60 million, “Dave” was co-financed by New Regency, Fox and studio partner Dune Equity Management.

Murphy’s last live-action comedy, DreamWorks’ “Norbit,” opened to $34.2 million in February 2007 on its way to grossing $95.7 million domestically.

While “Journey” and “Dave” go after families and kids, “Golden Army” will be the latest player competing for male attention.

U has extensively marketed the film, which reunites del Toro with topliner Ron Perlman, who starred in the 2004 “Hellboy.” Chances are good that “Golden Army” will outpace the $23.1 million opening of “Hellboy.” Film franchise is based on the Dark Horse Comics character, an alien demon who is raised on Earth and fights on behalf of the U.S. government.

The first “Hellboy” was produced by Joe Roth’s Revolution and released through Sony. Universal acquired the property after Revolution shuttered. First film grossed $59 million domestically and $100 million worldwide.

While “Golden Army” is appealing primarily to men, older women are showing interest as well, according to tracking.

“Golden Army” is drawing strong reviews, harvesting an 82% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of Thursday afternoon. Early reviews for “Journey” are good as well, with the pic scoring an 89% fresh rating. “Dave” was lagging well behind with a 33% fresh rating.

Most are predicting a close race for the weekend crown between “Golden Army” and the soph sesh of Sony’s Will Smith starrer “Hancock.” “Hancock,” whose domestic gross was $126.2 million through Wednesday, opened to $62.6 million last weekend. Should it drop by as much as 60% in its second weekend, pic would take about $25 million.

No one is willing to name a winner, saying that tracking for the weekend is being obscured because of the strong interest in Warner Bros.’ Batman sequel “The Dark Knight,” which opens July 18.

Several other holdovers should remain strong contenders this weekend, led by Disney-Pixar’s “Wall-E,” whose domestic gross through Wednesday was $140.4 million. U’s “Wanted” and Warner Bros.’ “Get Smart” continue to play strongly as well, grossing $98.2 million and $102.9 million, respectively, through Wednesday.

On the specialty side, ThinkFilm opens docu “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” in one theater in Gotham in a high-profile experiment in releasing a film on TV first. HBO has been airing the popular docu, directed by Marina Zenovich.

Other new specialty offerings include Eros’ Indian film “Mehbooba,” which opens in 10 runs. Film Movement opens Italian drama “Days and Clouds” in two theaters in New York.

Roadside Attractions bows Jason Freeland’s drama “Garden Party,” set in L.A., in seven theaters, while City Lights opens T. Sean Shannon’s teen comedy “Harold,” starring Spencer Breslin and Ally Sheedy, in three runs. Third Rail bows Gillian Armstrong’s Catherine Zeta Jones-Guy Pearce starrer “Death Defying Acts” in two runs, while First Look opens Josh Hartnett-Naomie Harris drama “August” in one run in Gotham.

On the foreign front, “Hancock” will dominate what looks to be a robust frame, with school vacations in full swing in Euro markets.

“Hancock” launched impressively last weekend with $78 million in 50 territories and tacked on $30 million more through Wednesday. It’s expanding into France, Mexico and the red-hot Russian market and appears well on its way to meeting Sony’s target of topping $300 million overseas.

The biggest player among the rest will probably be “Kung Fu Panda,” with launches in Belgium, France and Spain. The toon hit $173 million overseas through Wednesday.

Frame will also see day-and-date launches of the three major domestic openers, “Hellboy II,” “Meet Dave” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

U’s taking the “Hellboy” sequel into the action markets of Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and Thailand; the 2004 “Hellboy” wasn’t much of a foreign performer with less than $40 million.

Fox takes “Dave” into 918 playdates in 19 markets, led by Australia and Russia, in hopes that the broad comedy plus Eddie Murphy star power will translate into foreign coin. Murphy’s last comedy, “Norbit,” grossed $64 million overseas.

“Journey,” handled by a variety of distribs, will open in the U.K. along with Brazil, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Other launches include U’s expansion of “Mamma Mia!” into Australia, Scandinavia and the U.K. ahead of its domestic launch. Musical opened last weekend with $1.6 million from Greece and one London playdate. Warner is widening “Get Smart” into Italy with $25 million banked offshore early in its foreign run.

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