Dramatic brawl brews at box office

'30 Days' expected to sink fangs into top spot

In an already-crowded fall sked, there will be almost no elbow room this weekend as five well-plugged wide releases and a handful of limited bows flood the marketplace.

“Gone Baby Gone,” “30 Days of Night,” “Things We Lost in the Fire,” “Rendition” and “The Comebacks” will crowd the multiplexes, which will also see the re-release of Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D” and a sneak peek of offbeat laffer “Dan In Real Life,” starring Steve Carell.

With so much product, it’s difficult to forecast how the frame will shake out, although forecasters give an edge to Sony’s R-rated vampire horror pic “30 Days of Night,” which unspools in 2,855 theaters. Directed by David Slade and starring Ben Foster and Josh Hartnett, pic was produced by Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures.

Slugfest will be especially fierce among the plethora of adult dramas vying for the same aud — and for awards attention. After the record-breaking summer, the box office has been down so far this fall, with indications that audiences simply have too many choices or aren’t in the mood for serious and sobering storylines.

New films falling in the R-rated adult drama category include Ben Affleck’s feature directorial debut “Gone Baby Gone,” Halle Berry-Benicio Del Toro starrer “Things We Lost in the Fire” and writer-director Gavin Hood’s political drama “Rendition,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon.

Miramax had initially planned to open “Gone,” starring Casey Affleck and Morgan Freeman, in a limited run but revised its plans late in the summer. Well-reviewed film, about a girl who is kidnapped, opens in 1,700 locations. It’s based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also penned the tome “Mystic River.”

DreamWorks-Paramount bows “Fire” in 1,142 locations. Directed by Danish helmer Susanne Bier, pic follows a widow who embraces her murdered husband’s childhood friend, a heroin addict.

“Rendition,” exploring the government’s overreach in imprisoning and torturing terrorist suspects, plays in 2,250 locations.

Such films leave an opening for less serious fare — such as Disney’s surprise family hit “The Game Plan” — to make a mark at the box office.

Among new entrants in this category, Fox Atomic bows football sports comedy “The Comebacks,” rated PG-13, in 2,812 theaters. Directed by Tom Brady, film stars David Koechner as a washed-up coach who tries to revive a loser college team.

Disney opens Burton’s popular PG-rated “Nightmare” in 564 theaters equipped with 3-D digital screens. Saturday night, the Mouse House holds a sneak peak of PG-13 rated “Dan in Real Life” in 400 theaters. Laffer, which opens Oct. 26, also stars Juliette Binoche and Dane Cook.

Entering its second frame with a cume of $25.6 million, Tyler Perry’s romantic comedy “Why Did I Get Married?” is expected to be a strong contender this weekend after easily winning the previous frame for Lionsgate.

Likewise, the continued playability of Disney’s “Game Plan,” entering its fourth frame with a $60 million cume, can’t be ruled out. Last weekend, the Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson starrer pulled a surprise upset as it came in No. 2 ahead of new entrants “Michael Clayton” and “We Own the Night.”

Joaquin Phoenix, who stars in Sony’s “We Own the Night” along with Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall, appears in theaters this weekend’s limited release “Reservation Road.”

Focus Features unspools director Terry George’s “Reservation Road,” also toplining Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino, in 13 theaters. R-rated drama follows the fate of two families brought together by the death of a child.

Among other limited debuts, IFC opens New Zealand drama “Out of the Blue” in one location, and After Dark Films open edgy dramedy “Wristcutters: A Love Story” in three Gotham theaters.

Several specialty titles will expand, including Fox Searchlight’s offbeat laffer “The Darjeeling Limited,” which goes from 95 to 200 theaters. “Darjeeling,” the latest entry from Wes Anderson, has been a strong performer with $2.5 million in three weeks.

Ryan Gosling starrer “Lars and the Real Girl,” from MGM and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, also expands, going from two to 21.

On the foreign front, “Ratatouille” should continue to dominate for the third straight weekend via openings in China, Italy, Poland and Sweden and strong holdover biz from the U.K. and Germany. Pixar pic’s on target to hit the $300 million international mark as early as this weekend. It will become the seventh move to hit that milestone this year.

Mouse House execs opted to wait until the fall to launch “Ratatouille” in about half the international markets — a strategy based on avoiding competition with better-known franchise pics during the summer, taking advantage of trailering the tentpoles and targeting specific holidays in the fall.

With a domestic cume of $204 million, “Ratatouille” will also become the 53rd pic to take in over half a billion dollars in combined U.S. and international box office.

Universal’s widening “Knocked Up” with launches in Argentina, Hong Kong, Italy and the Philippines. The raunchy laffer’s performed respectably overseas with $58 million, led by $16 million in the U.K. and $12 million in Australia; still, that’s far short of the $148 million it grossed Stateside.

Par’s pushing “Stardust” into its final major markets in Germany, Taiwan and the U.K. Mirroring its middling perf in the U.S., the fantasy hasn’t clicked with overseas moviegoers with a $33 million cume so far, led by $8 million in Russia.

Other launches include “A Mighty Heart” in Australia, “The Heartbreak Kid” in Belgium, Holland and Norway and “Superbad” in Brazil, Spain and Ukraine.