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Weekend warriors at the box office

'Bill,' 'Punisher' vie for piece of action

The nation’s multiplexes will see a bruising face-off this weekend between a pair of R-rated avenger-type entries aimed at action fans — Miramax’s “Kill Bill Vol. 2” and Lions Gate/Artisan’s “The Punisher.”

Both films are showing significant traction among young males, but Quentin Tarantino’s sequel, opening with 2,971 playdates, is given the better odds at broadening its appeal into other demos, as it’s tracking far better among females and older males. Universal’s also in 1,013 sites to open showbiz comedy “Connie and Carla,” starring Nia Vardalos and Toni Collette as cabaret singers on the lam.

Distribs from other camps remain perplexed over the placement of two pics going after essentially the same core audience. Execs believe that both “Kill Bill Vol. 2” and “The Punisher” would have grossed more individually if they weren’t facing each other.

“Bill” stars Uma Thurman as a wronged woman driven to vengeance against David Carradine, who plays title character; “Punisher,” with 2,649 engagements, stars Tom Jane as a federal drug agent who turns vigilante after his family is killed by a crime boss played by John Travolta.

On the plus side, though, rival execs note that young males are the most frequent moviegoers and are more likely to be willing to see both films.

DVD push

Emerging consensus has been that “Kill Bill Vol. 2” will prevail, due to the benefits of strong reviews and the respectable perf by “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” which had a domestic cume of $69.9 million. Consumers spent about $40 million buying the DVD of “Vol. 1” on the first day it was in stores on Tuesday, and that number is expected to nearly double over the course of the first week.

Rival distribs estimate “Kill Bill Vol. 2” will debut in the mid to high 20 millions, or slightly better than the $22.1 million opening last October for “Kill Bill Vol. 1.” Industry expectations place “The Punisher” as heading for an opening in the mid to high teens. “Connie and Carla” has been tracking mostly among older females.

“Kill Bill Vol. 2” was originally slotted for a Feb. 20 release, but decided six weeks before then to go for April 16, even though “The Punisher” had already staked out the date.

“Bill” started out as one long pic until Miramax and Tarantino decided to whack it in half and release the chopsocky yarn as a two-parter.

The eighth weekend of Newmarket’s “The Passion of the Christ” is also certain to be a significant player this weekend. Mel Gibson’s blockbuster, which easily led five new releases in the last frame (which included Easter weekend) with $15.2 million, topped $356 million on Wednesday and has consistently outperformed forecasts.

Dan Marks, VP of box office tracker Nielsen EDI, noted that the new entries may be helped by coming into a marketplace where none of last weekend’s newcomers reached the $10 million mark. “If pictures with significant consumer appeal open in what’s been a lackluster market, that can be a benefit to those new films,” he added.

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