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‘Yes’ vs. the rest at box office

Carrey film takes on Will Smith's 'Seven'

The star-studded parade of films seeking Christmas coin continues today with the bows of Sony’s Will Smith drama “Seven Pounds” and Warner Bros.’ Jim Carrey laffer “Yes Man.”

Meanwhile, the family market sees a new entry, Universal’s G-rated toon “The Tale of Despereaux.” The specialty side sees a number of titles expanding, as well as the debut of Fox Searchlight’s “The Wrestler,” starring Mickey Rourke and directed by Darren Aronofsky.

“The Wrestler,” which has picked up several key nominations for Rourke’s perf — including a SAG nom on Thursday — got off to a strong start in its Wednesday debut. Film scored an impressive location average of $11,725 from four runs as it grossed $46,900.

Opening-day theater average bested that of sleeper hit “Slumdog Millionaire,” which likewise bowed on a Wednesday.

Many expect “Yes Man” to come in ahead of “Seven Pounds” overall this weekend because it’s a comedy. Pic could finally slow down Warner/New Line comedy “Four Christmases,” which has been an unexpectedly strong performer, seeing minimal week-over-week declines.

Smith may be the world’s biggest star, but box office observers say “Seven Pounds” will be a big test since it takes him out of his comfort zone. Film begins with his character reporting his own suicide before a long flashback that sees him helping seven strangers.

At the same time, no one should ever rule Smith out, even if the film opens at No. 2. His 2006 Christmas drama “The Pursuit of Happyness” opened to roughly $26 million on its way to grossing $162 million domestically. Pic made $143.5 million abroad.

“Seven Pounds” reunites Smith with “Happyness” director Gabriele Muccino.

“Will Smith can open a can of worms,” noted one competing studio exec. “He’s been untouchable so far.”

“Seven Pounds” should open at least in the $20 million-$25 million range, “Yes Man” probably in the mid- to high $20 millions and perhaps even north of $30 million.

“Despereaux” will see a more modest opening.

Here comes Christmas

The new titles won’t have the playing field to themselves for very long. On Christmas Day — Thursday — five films open nationwide: Paramount’s Brad Pitt/Cate Blanchett starrer “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Disney’s Adam Sandler laffer “Bedtime Stories”; Fox’s Jennifer Aniston/Owen Wilson comedy “Marley and Me”; United Artists/MGM’s Tom Cruise Nazi thriller “Valkyrie”; and Lionsgate’s “The Spirit,” helmed by graphic novel author Frank Miller.

The good news for Hollywood: Box office receipts remain strong, even with the collapse of the economy.

Revenues for the year are running slightly ahead of 2007, which saw a record-breaking take. Over Christmas weekend, “Bedtime Stories,” directed by Adam Shankman, is considered the front-runner, since it’s a broad family comedy.

“Marley and Me,” which is based on a bestselling book, is also expected to be at the front of the pack. Fox expects the film to draw families as well as adults.Tracking is also good for “Button,” from filmmaker David Fincher, but it will appeal primarily to adults. Paramount co-produced and co-financed the big-budget fantasy romancer, adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, with Warner Bros. Studios waging an aggressive awards campaign for the film.

United Artists is pitching “Valkyrie,” directed by Bryan Singer in his first outing since “Superman Returns,” as an adult thriller. It’s the first title to be released by UA under Cruise’s tenure as head of the company, a subsid of MGM.

“Valkyrie” has had several release dates and was only fairly recently moved from February 2009 to Christmas.

“The Spirit” is the only film targeting fanboys, although reviews have been less than kind.

Among award contenders on the specialty side, Overture’s Emma Thompson-Dustin Hoffman starrer “Last Chance Harvey” opens Christmas Day, followed by DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage’s Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet starrer “Revolutionary Road” on Dec. 26. Vantage’s Daniel Craig starrer “Defiance,” directed by Edward Zwick, opens Dec. 31.

Also, IFC Films announced Thursday it will add award runs of Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” based on the pic’s strong showing last weekend. Film will commence its additional two-week run this Wednesday in New York and Dec. 26 in Los Angeles.Specialty pics expanding between now and New Year’s include “Milk,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Gran Torino,” “Doubt” and “The Reader.”

Foreign plans

Overseas, distribs have opted for limited day-and-date releases of “The Tale of Despereaux,” which debuts in Portugal, Spain and the U.K., and “Yes Man,” which goes into India, Malaysia, South Korea, Spain and Sweden.

Both pics have significant international potential, particularly “Despereaux.” The toon should be able to generate coin among family auds given the offshore traction of animated entries such as “Kung Fu Panda,” with $425 million, and “Wall-E,” with $275 million.

And though American comedies often don’t translate well overseas, “Yes Man” may break through that barrier. Carrey’s last major hit, “Bruce Almighty,” generated impressive international numbers with more than $240 million.

The frame’s leading international performers will probably continue to be “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.” “Earth” opened last weekend with nearly $40 million overseas in 90 markets and expands into Japan, while the “Madagascar” sequel adds 13 markets, including Australia, China, Italy and Poland.

“Escape 2 Africa,” midway through its foreign run, should cross the $200 million mark in international cume this weekend.

“Twilight,” which has seen solid numbers early in its international release with more than $50 million, will also be a player as it goes into the U.K. Other openers include “Body of Lies” in Japan, “Bolt” in Mexico and Taiwan, “Eagle Eye” in France and “Four Christmases” in Holland and Russia.

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