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‘Rocky’ packs box office punch

Film KOs with $6.2 million opening

Could “Rocky Balboa” pack a surprise punch at the Christmas box office this weekend?

Pic scored some knockout one-day B.O. numbers in its Wednesday debut for MGM, playing to $6.2 million. Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, the newest installment in the franchise centers on the Italian Stallion’s return after a 16-year hiatus for yet another comeback.

Warners also got an early jump on the holidays Wednesday, rolling out Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” in five locations for $20,522. Unlike its companion film, “Flags of Our Fathers,” which Paramount handled, “Letters” is platforming and will not expand more widely this weekend.

“Rocky” expands from 2,752 playdates to 3,017 today, but the grizzled pugilist will face some stiff competish: Warner football pic “We Are Marshall” opens in more than 2,600, while Fox’s family-skewing “Night at the Museum” has booked 3,688.

Opening in more than 2,200, over a crowded frame, will be Universal political pic “The Good Shepherd.” Christmas Day will see the rollout of Paramount and DreamWorks’ musical “Dreamgirls” and MGM’s holiday horror remake “Black Christmas.”

But as of Thursday, underdog “Rocky” was tracking better than any of the other films, posting particularly big numbers with males. Pic’s biggest advantage could be that it’s piquing the interest of females over 25, who may recall the fictitious Philly fighter in his prime.

That could spell trouble for “Marshall.” Warners’ inspirational gridiron drama — which stars Matthew McConaughey as a coach trying to patch together a college squad after tragedy strikes — seems to be having a tougher time generating a similar level of interest in the same key demos.

“Museum,” meanwhile, starring Ben Stiller as a night watchman guarding some surprisingly lively exhibits, should have the teen market to itself among new releases and looks to be doing well with female auds.

A bevy of family-friendly holdovers could siphon off “Museum” biz, however, including Warner CG sensation “Happy Feet,” Fox’s own “Eragon” and Par’s “Charlotte’s Web,” which the studio is predicting will see only a slight drop over the frame as more moms become available to take tots to the movies.

Weekend’s wildcard should be Par’s “Dreamgirls”: Studio opened the Bill Condon-helmed musical successfully last frame in a series of sold-out “roadshows” at higher ticket prices. Bowing in around 800 engagements, pic should draw its core aud in its first week of release, but even the studio says the roadshows are not indicative of the general marketplace.

“Shepherd,” meanwhile, directed by Robert De Niro and starring Matt Damon, enters the fray at a time when high-minded pics have been having some trouble crossing over.

Plus, holdovers in the market still include last weekend’s No. 1, Sony’s “The Pursuit of Happyness,” as well as Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto,” Warners’ “Blood Diamond” and New Line’s “The Nativity Story.”

“Nativity” got off to a slow start but dipped just 18% in the last frame and could find more aud interest due to the holiday.

“Rocky” franchise has, with five pics since 1976, been worth more than $496 million at the domestic B.O. This $24 million installment was made with MGM, Revolution Studios and Sony.

In the specialty sector, limited releases will include Miramax’s “Venus,” Warner Independent’s “The Painted Veil,” IFC’s “No Restraint” and Sony Classics’ “Curse of the Golden Flower.” Warner’s “The Good German” will expand to 19 engagements, while Fox Searchlight’s “The History Boys” moves into 170.

On the foreign front, “Eragon” looks likely to repeat as the international box office champ following its day-and-date launch in most markets last weekend. The family-friendly adventure is expanding into Belgium, Brazil, France and Italy. Pic opening solidly in France on Wednesday with $1.1 million at 754.

Foreign cume for “Eragon” had passed $40 million as of Wednesday, lifting the worldwide total to nearly $70 million.

Sony’s “Casino Royale” will continue to cash in overseas, even after more than a month in most territories. Foreign grosses hit $288.3 million as of Wednesday — more than double the domestic take. “Casino,” which is launching in South Korea and Hong Kong, will end the weekend far above the previous worldwide record for a Bond pic, the $431 million for “Die Another Day.”

Other overseas contenders during the holiday frame include Warner’s “Happy Feet,” which expands into Hong Kong, Russia and South Korea, and UIP’s “The Holiday,” launching in Belgium and Brazil. “Happy Feet” has cumed about $65 million outside the U.S., boosting the worldwide total to around $215 million; “The Holiday” has hit $34 million overseas, $5 million ahead of its domestic total.

Fox is going day-and-date with “Night at the Museum” in only two markets, South Korea and Singapore, with expansion on Christmas Day into Mexico, followed by Boxing Day launches in Australia and New Zealand. And it’s opening “Rocky Balboa” only in Jamaica and Trinidad, opting to wait until mid-January for major market launches in Italy, Mexico and Spain.

Warner should continue to see impressive Japanese returns from the third frame of “Letters From Iwo Jima,” with grosses already topping the $13.4 million cume in that market for “Flags of Our Fathers.” Pic also opens today in the U.K.

Other offshore openings include UIP’s “Charlotte’s Web” in Greece, Holland, Japan and New Zealand; BVI’s “Deja Vu” in Portugal, South Africa and Sweden; Warner’s “The Departed” in Japan; UIP’s “Flushed Away” in Australia and Italy; and “The Prestige” in Italy.

“The Departed” has cumed $109 million overseas and about $230 million worldwide.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)