'12 Rounds,' 'Connecticut' also opening wide

Friday’s debut of Paramount and DreamWorks Animation’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” ushers in the age of the 3-D tentpole as studios look to entice moviegoers with a new form of entertainment that comes with a heftier ticket price.

Par is taking “Monsters” out in 4,104 locations, including 1,550 3-D sites, marking the widest bow yet for a 3-D title. (The remaining runs are conventional.) In terms of actual prints, film will play on 7,000 screens, 2,000 of them 3-D.

Elsewhere at the B.O., Lionsgate’s horror/suspenser “The Haunting in Connecticut” could prove strong counterprogramming. It opens in 2,732 runs.

Frame’s other new entry is Fox’s “12 Rounds,” the first pic from World Wrestling Entertainment’s revamped film division. It opens in 2,331.

“Monsters” is sure to be analyzed from all sides considering how much Hollywood has riding on 3-D plus the fact that there still aren’t enough 3-D-capable screens. Toon is the first of a handful of big-budget 3-D pics set to open this year, culminating at Christmas with 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar,” from James Cameron.

The allure of 3-D is that theater owners charge $3-$4 more per ticket. Imax 3-D tickets are roughly $5 more. Until now, studios have only dipped a toe in the 3-D sea (Disney is the exception). The results have been impressive, with 3-D screens doing three and four times the business of a conventional screen.

The biggest worry facing Jeffrey Katzenberg’s shop and other studios is the question of how many 3-D screens are enough. Hollywood had counted on there being many more 3-D screens by the time “Monsters” rolled out.

But just as the country’s three largest circuits — AMC, Regal and Cinemark — were about to get a line of credit to convert hundreds of screens, the economy collapsed. Before that, friction between studios and the three circuits held up the process.

One studio exec said, “The big question is, what comes first, the content or the theaters?”

Additional 3-D screens are going up every week. When Disney opened “Jonas Brothers: The Concert Experience 3D” on Feb. 27, there were only 1,271 locations.

“Monsters” actually debuted first in Russia and Ukraine last weekend, playing on both conventional screens and a limited number of 3-D runs. There are roughly 1,500 3-D screens overseas, with the U.K. having the largest concentration at 220, followed by China with 185.

Par is rolling “Monsters” out on a staggered basis overseas to coincide with spring vacations. This weekend, it expands into several smaller markets, including the Czech Republic and the Philippines.

Katzenberg became the highest-profile 3-D ambassador last year when he boldly announced that beginning with “Monsters,” all DreamWorks Animation titles would be shot in 3-D. The added cost of shooting a film in 3-D is said to be $15 million.

There are two ways to watch 3-D pics, in regular theaters that have been equipped with digital 3-D screens — the vast majority of those outfitted by Real D — and in Imax. “Monsters” will play in 143 Imax locations, the widest Imax launch ever.

At the Bridge theater in L.A., a moviegoer will pay $17.25 to see “Monsters” on the Imax screen, $15.75 to see it in digital 3-D and $12.75 for the 2-D version. At AMC Century City, it’s $17 for an Imax ticket, $16 for a digital 3-D theater and $12 for 2-D. In Chicago, it’s $15 for Imax, $13.50 for digital 3-D and $10 for 3-D. Among recent 3-D releases, Focus Features’ “Coraline” exceeded expectations in grossing $73.4 million to date. Only 44% of the theaters in the first week were 3-D, but they made up 74% of the pic’s gross. In week six, 3-D houses made up 80% of the gross.

Lionsgate’s “My Bloody Valentine” — the first horror title employing the new 3-D technology — was another overachiever, grossing $51.4 million on the strength of its 3-D runs, which supplied 70% of the entire gross.

On Thursday, 3-D outfitter Real D said it has inked a deal with AMC to build an additional 1,500 screens in the U.S. and Canada.

There’s no exact film with which to compare “Monsters vs. Aliens” because of the 3-D factor. Fox has had the most success with March toons. “Ice Age: The Meltdown” opened to $68 million in 2006, while “Ice Age” debuted to $46.3 million.

Lionsgate could be looking at a strong performer in “The Haunting in Connecticut,” starring Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan. Pic was produced by Gold Circle Films.

Prospects aren’t as bright for “12 Rounds,” although the film has a devoted fanbase. Pic stars WWE star John Cena.

On the foreign front, “Marley and Me” looks likely to wind up near the top, with Fox expanding the laffer into half a dozen markets including Denmark, Japan and Sweden. The Jennifer Aniston vehicle has cumed $65 million midway through its international run.

“Gran Torino,” which has impressed overseas with more than $60 million, opens in Mexico. “Watchmen,” which also has about $60 million outside the U.S., launches in India and Japan.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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