It’s ‘Man’ vs. women in close B.O. race

Action saturation could help out Sony's '13'

With the Jennifer Garner vehicle “13 Going on 30” looking to pull in young women, and Denzel Washington actioner “Man on Fire” fetching men, there is no clear favorite for this weekend’s top box office spot.

Revolution and Sony have heavily booked “13 Going on 30” in 3,438 locations, while 20th Century Fox’s “Man on Fire” will unspool in 2,979 theaters. Also giving “13” an advantage is the crowded field of R-rated action pics, including the second week of Miramax’s “Kill Bill Vol. 2” and Lions Gate’s “The Punisher.”

Sony domestic distrib prexy Rory Bruer said the studio held a second set of sneaks for “13” last Saturday at about 1,000 theaters. Auds were nearly two-thirds female, and about half the sneak auds were under 25. But most importantly, he said, “They were about 90% full.”Bruer said the studio thinks that response could translate into an opening weekend take in the high teens. Rival execs said the pic has a good chance to cross $20 million.

“13,” which Sony says cost $35 million to produce, is the first starring role in a feature for Garner, star of ABC spy skein “Alias.” Recent perfs of romantic comedies with female leads have been spotty. Two weeks ago, Paramount’s “The Prince and Me,” starring Julia Stiles, took in $9.4 million in its opening weekend against Sony’s more male-skewing “Hellboy.”

Hopes for a stronger opening for “13” rest on femme audiences pulling the guys who like them along. “We think this is a great date film,” Bruer said.

Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said “Man” has a tougher climb ahead. “The marketplace is crowded, and we are coming after two other revenge pictures.”

Snyder said he was encouraged by the film’s Wednesday night perfs at exclusive engagements at Gotham’s AMC Empire 25, where it grossed $9,700, and at Pacific Theaters’ the Grove, where it took in $10,100.

“They’re quite strong, given that all the ads have said ‘Starts Friday,’ except for two newspaper ads,” he said. “That’s almost all walk-in traffic.”

Snyder estimated an opening in the mid-teens, which would be well within the range of Washington’s past few pics. MGM’s PG-13-rated “Out of Time” bowed to $16.1 million last October; New Line’s “John Q.,” also rated PG-13, opened higher at $20.3 million in February 2002. In October 2001, Warner Bros.’ R-rated “Training Day” opened at $22.5 million.

While the second installment of “Kill Bill” opened bigger than the first, $25.1 million vs. $22.1 million, most of that was due to “Vol. 2’s” particularly strong Friday perf of $10.1 million. Since then, the second portion has performed nearly identically day-to-day as the first. Last October, “Vol. 1” sank 44% in its second frame, bringing in $12.4 million.

Other openers this weekend include Disney’s Imax feature “Sacred Planet,” and Warners toon “Clifford’s Really Big Movie” in limited engagements.

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