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Sci-fi’s riding high

'Constantine' leads weekend B.O. charge

Warner Bros.’ comicbook adaptation “Constantine” goes out this long weekend with an R rating at 3,006 theaters.

Weekend’s other wide releases will appeal to tykes and young teens who largely have Monday off from school.

Twentieth Century Fox is opening family dog pic “Because of Winn-Dixie” at 3,188 locations; New Line will revive its franchise with “Son of the Mask” at 2,966.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics debuts “Imaginary Heroes” on eight screens, while Universal will expand doc “Inside Deep Throat” to 27 screens from 12 last week.

While newcomers seek to take advantage of the holiday play period, Sony’s Will Smith romantic comedy “Hitch” will remain potent. Bolstered by Valentine’s Day, pic raked in $7.5 million on Monday for the holiday’s best-ever gross when it falls on a weekday; cume for its first four days was $50.7 million. Even a 50% drop would still put “Hitch” at $25 million for its second week.

Tracking on “Constantine,” starring Keanu Reeves, has been picking up, especially since its Super Bowl spot two weeks ago. Interest is largely from males, though spread between younger and older quadrants.

And with little male fare in theaters, pic may pick up on pent-up demand. In the same frame in 2003, “Daredevil” racked up $45 million in its first four days. However, that pic was rated PG-13 and the R on “Constantine” may constrain its opening.

Citing the R-rating, Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman said “Daredevil” isn’t setting “Constantine’s” pace. “‘Constantine’ is reaching a much different audience. That kind of a number would way exceed our expectations,” he said. “You might look at the original ‘Matrix,’ ” which opened to $27.8 million in late March 1999. “Our sights are somewhere in there. If we get a 3 in front of that, we’ll be very happy.”

New Line’s “Son of the Mask” is its second attempt to revive a Jim Carrey franchise without Carrey. In June 2003, it tried out “Dumb and Dumberer” and opened to $10.8 million on its way to $26 million. “Son of the Mask,” which has Jamie Kennedy in the lead, is expected to post a similar opening.

“Winn-Dixie” offers a combo of kids and dogs that has tended to generate consistent, if somewhat modest, box office results. In October 2003, MGM opened “Good Boy!” to $13.1 million on its way to $38 million. And in 2000, Warners used a platform release strategy to nurse “My Dog Skip” to a $34 million domestic cume.

Among the Oscar best pic contenders, only Warners’ “Million Dollar Baby” will stay in more than 2,000 theaters. Distrib will widen Clint Eastwood’s boxing drama by 70 to 2,105 this frame. Meanwhile, Miramax and Fox Searchlight will prune the runs of “The Aviator” and “Sideways.” “Aviator” drops 486 venues for a total of 1,701 while “Sideways” is losing 319 for a total of 1,300.

Also opening in limited release this frame is MGM’s “Bigger Than the Sky” on nine screens, Paramount Classics’ “Schultze Gets the Blues” on four and IFC’s “Turtles Can Fly” also on four. In addition, Newmarket unspools “Downfall” on one Gotham screen.

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