This year’s box office so-so so far

2008 receipts hit $1.98 billion

Without any real breakout hits, Hollywood’s seeing solid rather than spectacular box office so far this year as the first quarter ends.

As of Wednesday, 2008 receipts hit $1.98 billion, or 3% above the same point last year, according to Rentrak. And a significant amount of this year’s take has come from 2007 holdovers “I Am Legend,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” and “Juno.”

The year’s about to see its first $100 million grosser as Fox’s “Horton Hears a Who” — the only pic to post back-to-back weekend wins this year — crosses the century mark today.

But 2008 has yet to see the equivalent of “300,” which launched a year ago with a stunning $70.8 million opening weekend on its way to a $210 million domestic gross. The best action performers so far in 2008 have been “Cloverfield,” “10,000 BC,” “Jumper” and “Vantage Point” — none of which have topped the $80 million mark, though “10,000 BC” should do so this weekend.

And were it not for the standout $64 million perf of tween concert fave “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds,” 2008 would trail last year’s total.

The final weekend of the first quarter will see more of the same decent, rather than blockbuster, returns. Sony’s gambling thriller “21” looks like the best bet at the weekend box office as it unspools in 2,648 theaters, winning out over the Weinstein Co. launch of “Superhero Movie” in 2,960 and the third frame of “Horton.”

But the outlook seems grim for Paramount’s Iraq war drama “Stop-Loss,” opening at 1,291 amid expectations that moviegoers are not yet in the mood for bigscreen explorations of the painful issues raised by the five-year conflict. The outlook’s also downbeat for Picturehouse’s Brit romantic comedy “Run Fatboy Run” at 1,133.

Rival execs believe Sony has a winning hand with “21” and should be able to hit at least that number in millions of dollars — probably around the mid 20s, although Sony’s forecasting a take in the high teens.

Tracking’s showing interest from all demos, with the highest levels coming from young males, who see little competition for their attention now that “10,000 BC” is in its fourth frame. Studio has extensively promo’d “21” via high-energy trailers and ads to stress the wish-fulfillment plot point of financially struggling college students, portrayed by Kate Bosworth and Jim Sturgess, making millions by outwitting a Las Vegas casino.

Co-stars include Kevin Spacey as a wily math prof who engineers the scam and Laurence Fishburne as the casino’s security chief. Pic is directed by Robert Luketic, whose work has been mostly in comedies such as “Monster in Law” and “Legally Blonde.”

“Superhero Movie,” distribbed by MGM, should lead the rest of the pack with expectations of a finish in the mid-teens. It’s produced by spoof vet David Zucker and directed by Craig Mazin.

Recent spoofs have turned in generally moderate numbers: “Meet the Spartans” is now approaching $40 million domestically, and “Epic Movie” ended up with $38 million. December’s “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” tanked with an $18 million cume.

“Horton” should remain a significant player among kids and parents, declining about 50% for a score in the low teens. With school holidays in full swing, the CG toon’s dominated weekday viewing with $10.7 million from Monday through Wednesday to boost the domestic cume to nearly $97 million, underlining the appeal of animation in the current market.

By contrast, “Stop-Loss” is barely registering among potential moviegoers despite generally positive notices. Rival distribs believe Kimberly Peirce’s tale, centering on Iraq War vets forced to return to the battlefield after completing their tour of duty, won’t connect with much of the moviegoing public and is headed for a showing in the $3 million range.

The disappointing results for “Stop-Loss” won’t come as a huge surprise in the wake of modest results from similar fare such as “Rendition,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “Redacted” and “The Kingdom.”

“Run Fatboy Run,” starring Simon Pegg as a man trying to win back his fiance by running a marathon, hasn’t generated much buzz Stateside despite an impressive $23 million last year at the U.K. box office. Recent Brit laffers aimed at adults have generally found moderate traction in the U.S., with “Hot Fuzz” taking $22 million.

On the limited release front, TWC and Fox Searchlight’s “Under the Same Moon” expands from 266 to 390 to take advantage of the momentum from last weekend, when it drew $2.8 million to set a record for best launch by a Spanish-language pic. The immigrant drama will widen mostly into arthouse outlets this frame, expand gradually in the next two seshes and move into a wide release on April 18.

A pair of dramas involving jewelry theft are launching — Magnolia’s diamond heist caper “Flawless,” toplined by Michael Caine and Demi Moore, goes to 35 locations, while Goldwyn’s “Priceless” debuts at two dozen screens.

International flavor

On the foreign front, “10,000 BC” and “Horton Hears a Who” look likely to maintain the top slots after dislodging French megahit “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” last weekend. “Horton,” which is expanding into Taiwan, is the frame’s likely winner given the generally strong support for toons in foreign markets.

“Ch’tis,” Dany Boon’s comic valentine to the inhabitants of his native region near Belgium, has cumed a massive $140 million from France, Belgium and Switzerland and has shown few signs of slowing down.

The weekend will also see “The Golden Compass” launch in China, its final foreign market, with $280 million already in the bank — four times as much as the domestic cume in a perf that demonstrates the strength of fantasy fare outside the U.S.

Other launches include “27 Dresses” in the U.K. and Malaysia, “Definitely Maybe” in Austria and Germany, “Drillbit Taylor” in Belgium and the U.K., “The Game Plan” in Germany and Spain, “Jumper” in Brazil and Mexico, “Meet the Spartans” in Spain and “Vantage Point” in Belgium, Greece and Norway.

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