‘Shrek’ takes aim at Spidey’s spot

Summer box office goes green

After “Spider-Man 3” kicked off the season with record-breaking box office, the pressure is on for Paramount and DreamWorks Animation’s third “Shrek” installment to deliver.

While “Shrek the Third” — flooding 4,122 U.S. theaters as the frame’s only new wide rollout — will no doubt land at No. 1, it remains to be seen whether the green guy can post numbers to match the last pic’s $108 million opening in 2004.

Third “Shrek” has been tracking so far to open around the $100 million mark, but tracking on CG pics tends to be tricky as data overlooks kiddies’ interests.

It seems unlikely “Shrek the Third” can break “Spider-Man 3’s” first weekend B.O. marks, even with little competish in the ogre’s way.

Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, “Shrek” will enjoy more runs than longer competish; “Spider-Man” runs 140 minutes. PG pic is also one of the only family choices currently in the marketplace.

But while “Shrek 2” hit a towering $436.7 million in North America box office alone, the franchise hit a bump in the road after DreamWorks Animation had to cut financial forecasts in 2005 due to slower-than-expected DVD sales for the property.

In addition, “Shrek” could see many of its tickets this weekend sold to underage auds paying less per ducat, resulting in less robust first-frame B.O. than Spidey drew. (Par and DreamWorks are hoping “Shrek” won’t be a “dropoff” pic, for which adults unload kids at the mall, but one that will capture the ‘rents as well.)

Meanwhile, in more limited release, Magnolia will send Hal Hartley’s “Fay Grim” to 27 screens, while ThinkFilm runs with Luke Wilson’s “The Wendell Baker Story,” the Yari Group bets on gambling pic “Even Money” and Fox Searchlight spotlights romantic musical “Once.”

Spanning the globe, “Spider-Man 3” will continue to dominate as “Shrek the Third” opens day-and-date in just four international markets this weekend — Russia and the Ukraine on Thursday and Romania and the Philippines today. Paramount Pictures Intl. is holding off on the rest of the major markets until school vacations start in June and July, with staggered launches starting in Australia on June 7 and France on June 13.

“Spider-Man 3” declined 50% last weekend in overseas markets to $84.3 million, so it’s likely to wind up in the $40 million range during the current frame.

As of Wednesday, Spidey has taken in $412 million overseas and $662 million worldwide, representing the 22nd highest gross internationally and the 25th highest worldwide. The U.K. ranks as the top market with $51.2 million, followed by France with $41 million, Japan with $38.6 million, South Korea with $28 million, Mexico with $26.5 million, Germany with $22 million and Italy with $21 million.

Biggest overseas challenge to the webslinger should come from Warner Bros.’ first foreign launches of David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” which opens in Australia, France, Italy, Spain and the U.K. in conjunction with its Cannes screening. Despite strong reviews, “Zodiac” turned out to be a tough sell domestically, grossing $33 million for Paramount following its March opening as distribution pros opined that the chiller’s lengthy running time held down Stateside biz.

“Zodiac” is the first film to provide any serious international competition to “Spider-Man 3” prior to next week’s worldwide launch of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which opens first on Wednesday in nine foreign markets.

For this weekend, the other international openings are scattered, including “28 Weeks Later” in Thailand, “Black Snake Moan” in the U.K., “The History Boys” in Germany and Spain, “Next” in South Korea and Taiwan and “Reno 911!: Miami” in Australia and New Zealand.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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