‘Sith’ smackdown

'Yard,' 'Madagascar' take their shots

Can the four-day Memorial Day frame — which has become in recent years the biggest weekend at the box office — support three blockbusters?

“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which rang up $108.4 million during last week’s three-day span, is expected to keep its B.O. crown for 20th over the holiday frame.

Though they’re both expected to open strongly, the frame’s newcomers are in a close fight for second place: Paramount’s “The Longest Yard,” bowing in 3,634 theaters, and DreamWorks’ “Madagascar,” going out ultra-wide with 4,131 venues.

However, even if all three pics perform as well as expected, industry observers expect the total biz over four days to be lower than last year. Over the holiday last year, the combination of “Shrek 2’s” second-week total of $95.6 million and “The Day After Tomorrow’s” $85.8 million debut lifted the weekend total to a mighty $247.8 million.

Even if the frame falls short, extending to 14 weeks the streak in which this year’s weekend totals have been lower than 2004, the strong midweek grosses for “Star Wars” may continue to close the gap in year-to-date box office. In its first seven days of release, “Sith” has scored $191.4 million domestic.

On Monday, “Sith” had $14.4 million in receipts and has grossed in the neighborhood of $9 million on Tuesday and Wednesday. In tracking, 10% of those polled said they have already seen the pic two or more times. “That’s the largest number I’ve ever seen,” Snyder said.

By comparison, last year “Shrek 2” grossed $11.5 million on its first Monday and then in the neighborhood of $8 million through the rest of the week.

“I’m startled by these midweek numbers,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said, “especially for a non-summer, non-holiday week.” He said he expected Thursday grosses to go up since 17% of school kids get the day off.

Studios confident

Still, both studios behind “Madagascar” and “Yard” are confident they’ll open despite the “Sith” juggernaut. But to do so, they’ll each have to carve out an aud segment even as they appeal to all quadrants. “Madagascar” is targeting the family aud and “Yard” will be appealing to men under age 25. While “Sith” has done big biz among young men, its strongest quadrant has actually been men over 25.

Par distrib topper Wayne Lewellen said of “Yard,” which stars Adam Sandler, “Our strongest demographic is the young male quadrant. Hopefully they’ll see both pictures.”

For DreamWorks, the stakes on “Madagascar” are somewhat heightened by the fact it is the first toon released since the company took its animation arm public.

In the limited arena, Sony Classics is starting “Saving Face” on six screens in Gotham and L.A. while Palm begins “Bomb the System” on one screen on each coast.

Bowing on two in Gotham are both Kino’s “The Ninth Day” and New Yorker’s “Sequins.” Magnolia’s doc “A League of Ordinary Gentlemen” plays a solo screen in Gotham, while Thinkfilm unspools “Genesis” on one in L.A.