Biz bracing for box office bottleneck

Seven wide releases debut this weekend

A whopping seven wide releases — plus the semi-wide release of Bill Maher’s doc “Religulous” — debut this weekend at the domestic box office, making for the most crowded frame that anyone can remember.

Battling for October B.O. amid the many openers poses all sorts of problems for distributors, from fighting for screens to having to spend more on media campaignsjust be heard. It also fragments the prospective aud for weekend moviegoing. meaning money left on the table.

The bottleneck at the B.O. isn’t going to ease up any time soon. There are four new wide releases set for each of the next two weekends and three slated for the last weekend in October.

September and October have traditionally been a time for more serious films and family pics. The months also are a favorite dumping ground.

But nowadays, studios have to use the early fall for more commercial films, too, because the release calendar is crowded year-round.

No one is happy about it.

“This sort of crazy volume has never happened before,” said Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane. “How do you even get noticed?”

For this weekend, Disney would seem to be well-positioned. Its “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is looking like a surefire bet with the kid and family aud.

Of the other new titles, Sony’s Michael Cera-Kat Dennings quirky comedy “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” also is looking strong.

After that, things get murky.

Titles include Universal’s Greg Kinnear topliner “Flash of Genius”; MGM’s comedy “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” based on the bestselling book; Miramax’s Julianne Moore-Mark Ruffalo starrer “Blindness”; Vivendi’s politically charged spoof “An American Carol”; and Warner Bros.’ Western “Appaloosa,” which expands nationwide.

Lionsgate also opens Maher’s “Religulous” in more than 500 theaters.

U has been heavily marketing “Flash of Genius,” based on the real-life story of the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, only to fight patent claims for years against automakers.

Lionsgate has been aggressively tubthumping “Religulous,” directed by Larry Charles.

Last fall, there was a similar glut around this time but it was more on the specialty side. The results weren’t pretty, with many of the pics falling by the wayside. This year, the glut is more pronounced for all the wide releases. In the same weekend last year there were only three wide releases.

“It’s a trainwreck,” said a marketing exec.

The four pictures opening wide over the Oct. 10-12 weekend are Ridley Scott’s Leonardo DiCaprio-Russell Crowe starrer “Body of Lies,” Fox Walden’s family film “City of Ember,” U’s sports drama “The Express” and Sony’s thriller “Quarantine.”

The following weekend, Fox’s vidgame adaptation “Max Payne,” which is tracking strongly, arrives alongside Fox Searchlight’s “The Secret Life of Bees” and Lionsgate’s George Bush biopic “W.,” directed by Oliver Stone, enter the fray.

Opening on Oct. 24 are Warner Bros. crime drama “Pride and Glory,” directed by Gavin O’Connor, Lionsgate’s “Saw V” and Disney’s “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.”