Warners putting up its ‘Dukes’

Studio opening 'Hazzard' redo, expanding 'Penguins'

Warner Bros. drives the General Lee into 3,785 theaters today, as “The Dukes of Hazzard” is the frame’s only fresh wide release.

Meanwhile, studio’s specialty label Warner Independent Pictures tests the wide release waters for “March of the Penguins,” which jumps to 1,867 runs, up from 778 last weekend.

Frame is the first since May that features only one new wide release; only other summer title this year to get a weekend all to itself was 20th Century Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” back on May 19.

With plenty of room in the marketplace, a saturation release pattern and an uptick in tracking, “Dukes,” which stars Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott and Jessica Simpson, should have no trouble claiming the top spot on the box office chart.

Only drama is how high it goes. Industry expectations are for “Dukes” to get past the $25 million mark, with an upper limit of $30 million.

Retreads of 1970s television titles have a pretty decent track record. “Charlie’s Angels” popped to $40.1 million when it debuted in November 2000. Sequel “Full Throttle” didn’t quite live up to expectations but still opened to $37.1 million in June 2003. And “Starsky and Hutch” opened to $28.1 million in March 2004.

Of course, all tube reduxes have not performed to expectations. Earlier this summer, “Bewitched” (taken from a slightly earlier TV era) opened to $20 million and has cumed just $60.7 million.

Tracking on PG-13-rated “Dukes” is solid across the board but strongest among people under 25 — folks who weren’t watching TV when the original skein was on the air.

Still, Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman says the younger auds are familiar with the show. “Our research shows they’ve watched it on reruns and they like our cast. We’re playing to a specific audience.”

He added that older auds will also be drawn to the pic. “We’ve got a four-quadrant movie,” he said.

“Dukes” has found its most devoted fan base in the heartland — reruns air on Country Music Television — which has led some observers to question whether the pic will have coastal appeal.

“Everybody kids around and says it’s a Red State movie,” said Fellman, “but our screenings in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have played just as well as elsewhere. It’s a movie that everyone will enjoy.”

“Penguins,” which already has a cume of $18.4 million, is making its most aggressive push.

Key to its success so far, said WIP distrib chief Steven Friedlander, is the support from family auds.

“The expansions are into megaplexes that do a lot of family business,” he said. “One of the things that works great is that the only thing opening this week is ‘Dukes of Hazzard,’ which has a different audience.”

Of the 1,089 new locations, about 65% are in new markets.

Pic has enjoyed an incredibly sturdy per-screen average through its run — $5,181 last week, its seventh frame.

That’ll go down a bit with the wide expansion, but even if the average drops below $3,000, pic should still claim around $5 million this weekend.

A busy weekend of new limited releases include Samuel Goldwyn’s “Saint Ralph,” which unspools on 60 screens.

Slowhand’s doc “My Date With Drew” starts out on 58, while Picturehouse’s “The Chumscrubber” will bow on 27.

Also starting on 27 screens is Focus Features’ Bill Murray-Jim Jarmusch collaboration “Broken Flowers.”

Miramax unspools “Secuestro Express” on eight.

Sony Pictures Classics starts two titles in Gotham and L.A.: “Junebug” bows on seven screens while “2046” begins on four.

Fine Line is also starting a one-week limited run of its doc “Year of the Yao” on two screens in L.A. Pic originally opened in April.