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New movies crowd box office

'Body of Lies,' 'Express,' others opening wide

The box office is in need of population control.

Another four movies open wide on Friday — Warner Bros.’ Leonardo DiCaprio-Russell Crowe CIA actioner “Body of Lies,” directed by Ridley Scott; Universal sports biopic “The Express”; Sony/Screen Gems’ horror title “Quarantine”; and Fox-Walden family film “City of Ember.”

They add to an already jam-packed marquee. Last weekend, there were seven wide releases, led by Disney’s “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” which opened to a robust $29.3 million.

The specialty side also will be hectic. Limited openers include Warner Bros.’ actioner “RockNRolla,” directed by Guy Ritchie and opening in seven theaters, and Miramax’s Mike Leigh comedy “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which opens in four theaters in New York and L.A.

Debuting in five theaters in L.A. and Gotham is Wong Kar Wai’s reworking of his classic martial arts pic, “Ashes of Time Redux.” Sony Pictures Classics is releasing the Chinese-language film domestically.

Also debuting is Billy Graham biopic “Billy: The Early Years,” which Rocky Mountain Pictures takes out in 282 theaters.

Among wide players, “Chihuahua” may just win again. Since Monday is Columbus Day, Sunday could see more traffic than usual, a boost for family films in particular.

The R-rated “Body of Lies” revolves around a conflicted CIA agent who is on the ground in the Middle East tracking terrorists. Films dealing with the post-9/11 war on terrorism and the Iraqi war haven’t had great luck at the box office. It opens at 2,710 runs.

DiCaprio’s last feature film was the action-drama “Blood Diamond,” which opened to $8.6 million on its way to cuming $57.4 million domestically. Among his other films, “Body of Lies” is projected to open along the lines of “The Beach” ($15.3 million) and “The Man in the Iron Mask” ($17.3 million).

But with so many titles in the mix, and no clear leader, surprises could be in store.

“Quarantine,” bowing in 2,461 theaters, and “Express,” opening in 2,808, could end up in a close race, although “Quarantine” could break out, even with its R rating.

“City of Ember,” bowing in 2,022, is expected to trail the other new openers. Pic was fully financed and produced by Walden; Fox is the distributor.

“Express,” starring Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid, is based on the life of Syracuse U. football star Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. After being drafted by the NFL, he was diagnosed with leukemia and his football career was cut short.

Sports dramas have had an up-and-down time of late. “We Are Marshall” opened to roughly $6 million in December 2006. “Invincible” did better, grossing roughly $17 million in its debut. “We Are Marshall” went on to gross $45 million domestically, “Invincible” $57.8 million. “Express” is tracking best among older males and should draw a strong ethnic aud.

“City of Ember,” based on the popular children’s books, comes as Fox-Walden ceases to be a standalone marketing partnership between Fox and Walden Entertainment and becomes an inhouse unit within Fox.

“Ember,” with a cast that includes Tim Robbins and Bill Murray, is expected to face an uphill battle at the box office. Of the three previous films released under the Fox-Walden banner, “Nim’s Island” was the biggest grosser, cuming $48 million domestically.

On the specialty side, other openers include “Hello” (Shemaroo, 21 theaters), “Breakfast With Scot” (Regent, six runs) and “Fraude” (Maya, five runs).

At the international box office, “Mamma Mia!” will be aiming at a sixth straight weekend atop the charts thanks to exceptional holdover biz in nearly every market. The tuner’s foreign grosses will hit $400 million as early as this weekend.

Distribs continue to opt for gradual rollouts of new entries with narrowly targeted day-and-date releases overseas. “Body of Lies” opens in just three markets — Australia, Hong Kong and Thailand — while “City of Ember” debuts in the U.K. and Romania.

Paramount is expanding “Eagle Eye” into Germany, South Korea and Spain and half a dozen other new markets. The actioner grossed $8.6 million last weekend from 31 territories and has gone past $15 million early in its offshore run.

Sony’s making a push for “The House Bunny” with launches in France, Germany, Spain and the U.K. The laffer’s just started its foreign run with about $3 million from seven markets.

Warner Bros. is launching “Nights in Rodanthe” in the U.K., having taken about $4 million from eight markets so far. Fox is also opening “Mirrors” in Blighty after seeing $19 million from 27 territories.

Universal’s expanding “Wanted” into China, its final market. The actioner’s been a solid performer outside the U.S. with grosses topping $170 million.