Films vying for awards take center stage

Films jockeying for awards attention take centerstage at the domestic box office this weekend, with Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” forecast to grab the crown as it opens nationwide after a boffo limited run.

“Gran Torino,” from Warner Bros., is expected to beat out the more commercial “Bride Wars,” which Fox opens in 3,226 theaters. The female-skewing comedy, starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson, should turn in a strong performance as it walks down the aisle.

The race could be close, however. And don’t count out Fox’s holdover holiday hit “Marley and Me,” which could give “Gran Torino” and “Bride Wars” a run. Through Wednesday, “Marley’s” domestic cume was $111.1 million.

Weekend’s other wide opener is Rogue Pictures/Universal’s “The Unborn,” directed by David S. Goyer; Universal releases it at 2,356 runs. Sony opens urban faith-based title “Not Easily Broken” in 724.

The kudos race will heat up substantially with Sunday night’s Golden Globes ceremony, followed on Jan. 22 by the Oscar nominations.

Specialty distributors and studios can see significant gains at the box office when bestowed with best picture and acting Golden Globe wins and Oscar noms.

Nominations alone can equal increased B.O. business. Hollywood is happily welcoming the return of the Golden Globes ceremony this year after last year’s truncated event due to the WGA strike.

“Gran Torino” is one of several studio movies in the awards mix, along with the usual crop of specialty titles.

Pic, expanding from 84 locations to 2,808, should score Eastwood his biggest wide opening ever for a film he’s directed and potentially his biggest domestic gross of all time. It will look to beat “Space Cowboys,” which opened to $18 million on its way to cuming $90.5 million domestically.

Eastwood’s 2004 Oscar best picture winner “Million Dollar Baby” grossed $16.6 million when it went wide on its way to grossing $100.4 million. “Gran Torino” has earned nearly $11 million in its four-week limited run.

Other big studio award contenders include Paramount’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which has turned in an unexpectedly strong box office perf since opening nationwide on Christmas Day. Through Wednesday, domestic cume was $83.6 million.

Universal has “Frost/Nixon,” which continues to play in a traditional limited run. “Frost/Nixon” is holding steady at about 200 theaters, with a cume of $6.6 million through Wednesday.

“Frost/Nixon” and “Button” both earned Globe noms for drama, as did Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” the Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader” and DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage’s “Revolutionary Road.”

Some titles, such as “Frost/Nixon,” have been waiting for Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony before expanding substantially.

But in other cases studios have taken a more aggressive approach, with strong results, such as with Miramax’s “Doubt” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” “Doubt” went wide over Christmas, posting an impressive cume of $20 million through Wednesday. Theater count is north of 1,200.

“Slumdog Millionaire” has more than prospered, with a cume of $30 million through Wednesday from only 612 theaters.

In advance of the Golden Globes, the Weinstein Co. will up the theater count for “The Reader” from 398 to 507 this weekend. Film’s gross was $4 million through Wednesday.

“Revolutionary Road” ups its run from 38 theaters to 138. Film, which didn’t open until Dec. 26, has grossed $1.6 million so far.

Foreign fare

At the foreign box office this weekend, “Seven Pounds” is set for a make-or-break weekend as Sony expands what has been a limited run into several key markets including Australia, Germany, Italy and Mexico.

Will Smith vehicles have been uniformly impressive overseas — particularly actioners such as “Hancock,” with nearly $400 million, and “I Am Legend,” at $330 million. Even family drama “The Pursuit of Happyness” turned in solid numbers, with $145 million offshore.

“Slumdog Millionaire” will have a chance to take advantage of its awards season momentum in its British launch. The Danny Boyle vehicle has performed decently in Australia and Italy with $4 million in those markets over the past month.

Another awards contender, “Milk,” will move into its first foreign market as Universal launches the biopic in Spain.

Par’s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is likely to lead the pack for the fourth consecutive frame as the toon expands to South Korea. Foreign cume had hit $347 million as of Tuesday.

U will open “The Tale of Despereaux” in Australia and New Zealand, and Warner Bros. will launch “Yes Man” in Italy. Both pics are early in their foreign runs, with “Tale of Despereaux” taking in $13 million and “Yes Man” with $33 million.

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