Jesus vs. James Bond.
That unlikely matchup will indeed unfold this weekend at the U.S. box office as New Line preps “The Nativity Story” to do battle with Sony holdover “Casino Royale,” as well as Warner Bros.’ B.O. champ “Happy Feet” and Disney’s second frame of sci-fi thriller “Deja Vu.”
New Line will put “Nativity” in 3,183 playdates as the frame’s widest new rollout.
Frame following the Thanksgiving glut is a traditionally slow affair. Other wide openers will include MGM’s “Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj,” bowing on 1,979, and Fox genre banner Fox Atomic’s first release, horror pic “Turistas.”
“Nativity” continues Hollywood’s more aggressive targeting of the faith-based crowd in the wake of “The Passion of the Christ.”
“Turistas,” meanwhile, will be a litmus test for Atomic topper Peter Rice, who also runs the studio’s specialty label Fox Searchlight.
“Wilder” comes as MGM makes a bold year-end push: Studio has nine pics rolling out between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The Lion also has recent pickup “Two Weeks,” starring Sally Field, Ben Chaplin and Tom Cavanagh, opening over the frame.
Standing in the way of the new releases will be holdover “Happy Feet,” which has turned a flock of singing CG-animated penguins into B.O. behemoths this season and won the past two weekends.
Pic has passed $100 million in two frames, and Warners sees “Happy Feet” as having the legs to last through January and take in $200 million.
“Casino Royale,” meanwhile, which has settled for No. 2 the last two weekends, is still tracking just behind “Happy Feet” with strong numbers.
Bond pics released at Thanksgiving tend not to have the legs to run till Christmas, but the latest entry — starring Daniel Craig as a new, blond version of the secret agent — is already destined to become the highest-grossing pic in franchise history.
It has been dealt just under $100 million in two weeks of release.
Disney sci-fi thriller “Deja Vu,” from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, will also be in the running to grab biz in its second frame.
Limited releases entering the fall fray include ThinkFilm’s “10 Items or Less,” Magnolia’s “The Architect” and Indican’s “Four Eyed Monsters.”
On the foreign front, Sony’s “Casino Royale” should dominate for a third straight frame. The 21st James Bond pic had cumed $150 million overseas in 50 markets as of Wednesday, lifting the global total to $249 million, or 58% of the final take for 2002’s “Die Another Day.”
“Casino” is launching this frame in Japan and South Africa. Bond pics tend to perform respectably in Japan, with “Die Another Day” taking $19 million.
Biggest competition will come from day-and-date launches of “The Nativity Story,” with openings set for Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Spain and Sweden via an array of distributors. Italy was by far the biggest foreign market two years ago for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” with $24 million, followed by the U.K. with $20.4 million, Mexico with $18.9 million, Brazil with $15.4 million and Spain with $13.7 million.
Performance of “Nativity” is viewed as somewhat unpredictable, given that it lacks the buzz of controversy that helped propel “Passion” to over $600 million in worldwide grosses. The Italian “Nativity” launch is likely to be the largest, thanks partly to Sunday’s first-ever world preem of the pic at the Vatican.
The weekend’s other significant launch will be UIP’s “Flushed Away” with openings in France, Scandinavia, Spain and the U.K. Toon’s cumed $9.2 million overseas, with 63% of that in Russia, and $67 million worldwide.
Warner is launching “Happy Feet” into its first major foreign markets with openings in Germany and Italy. Other openings include “Deck the Halls” in Italy, Sweden and the U.K.; BVI’s “Deja Vu” in Malaysia, Spain and Taiwan; “The Departed” in France; and Sony’s “Open Season” in Australia and Singapore.
(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)