Franchise film going up against 'Saw V'

Just how loudly will Disney’s “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” sing when it makes its theatrical debut at the worldwide box office this weekend?

Loudly.

The wildly successful franchise — built on the strength of girls, young and old — has already conquered television and the music biz, as well as spawned stage plays. It’s now looking for validation on the bigscreen.

In North America, “HSM3,” toplining Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, will bow opposite Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures’ R-rated “Saw V,” the latest installment in the blockbuster Hollywood horror franchise. Together, the two pics are expected to energize the B.O. despite the crippled economy.

The weekend’s other new wide release is New Line/Warner Bros.’ crime drama “Pride & Glory,” from director Gavin O’Connor and starring Colin Farrell and Edward Norton. Pic, which unspools in 2,585 runs, isn’t expected to display much firepower.

On the specialty side, Universal opens Clint Eastwood’s Angelina Jolie starrer “Changeling” in 15 theaters in nine markets. Film opens nationwide next weekend. Moviegoers buying tickets for “Changeling” will get to see the first trailer for Eastwood’s other upcoming film, “Gran Torino,” which opens in a limited run Dec. 17.

There’s also action on the 3-D front. Disney opens Tim Burton’s annual “The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D” in 280 theaters, some of which are playing a digital 3-D movie for the first-time in a run-up to Disney’s 3-D Thanksgiving tentpole “Bolt.”

“HSM3″ has a good shot at beating the $31.1 million debut of Disney’s 3-D concert film “Hanna Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” which played on only 683.

“HSM3″ and “Saw V” may seem like strange bedfellows, but they’ll actually compete for older teen girls, who are diehard horror fans.

The similarities end there. “HSM3,” opening in 3,623 runs domestically, should have no trouble winning the weekend crown. It’s even on track to score the best-ever domestic opening for a live-action musical. Reigning champs are “Mamma Mia!” ($27.8 million) and “Hairspray” ($27.5 million).

Disney should have a golden weekend between “HSM3″ and family holdover “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” along with “Nightmare Before Christmas” (exhibitors can charge a premium for 3-D ducats).

Likewise, Lionsgate is looking at strong returns for “Saw V,” which debuts in 3,060 runs.

“Saw V” should come close to matching last year’s $31.7 million debut of “Saw IV.” In 2006, “Saw III” debuted to $33.6 million, while “Saw II” opened to $31.7 million in 2005. The original “Saw” bowed to $17.2 million.

With the release of “Saw V,” the franchise is on its way to eclipsing franchises “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” in terms of domestic box office receipts.

On the foreign front, “HSM3″ will likely dominate the international box office with day-and-date launches in 22 markets, including Brazil, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and the U.K.

Rival estimates of Wednesday launches portend a tuneful weekend take with $3 million in the U.K. and $650,000 in France. The two telepics and DVDs have shown solid international traction, particularly among pre-teens.

In addition, overseas markets have already demonstrated an extraordinary appetite for the musical genre given the impressive performance of Universal’s “Mamma Mia!” The foreign cume for “Mamma Mia!” hit $404 million as of Wednesday, including $127 million in the U.K., $38 million in Germany and $23 million in Sweden.

With “HSM3″ poised to top the domestic and international charts this weekend, the frame will also mark the first time that the foreign weekend winner hasn’t differed from the domestic leader since the final frame of July, when “The Dark Knight” took both crowns.

Arrival of “HSM3″ marks the start of the year-end tentpole season, which kicks into high gear next weekend with the first foreign launches of Sony’s “Quantum of Solace” and Paramount’s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” — both ahead of the domestic openings.

“Saw V” will open day-and-date in Australia, Poland, Taiwan and the U.K. through a variety of distribs. The franchise has generated solid foreign biz with a combined $270 million overseas.

The frame will also see “Journey 3D” launch in Japan — one of its final markets with 51 venues equipped with 3-D along with 45 conventional 2-D screens. “Journey” has racked over 30% of its $96 million overseas cume from 3-D locations.

Other openings include “Burn After Reading” in Mexico, “Ghost Town” in the U.K, “The House Bunny” in Mexico, “Max Payne” in Mexico and Russia, “Nights in Rodanthe” in Spain and “Tropic Thunder” in Hong Kong and Italy.

Other special openings at the domestic box office include Sony’s “Passengers,” which opens in 125 theaters; Eros’ “Heroes,” which opens in 60 runs; and Yash Raj’s “Roadside Romeo,” which plays 39.

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