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Sony's horror pic leads army of wide openers, awards hopefuls

The gang at ShowEast has their fingers crossed that this weekend will prove there truly is strength in numbers — at the boxoffice.

After four consecutive weekends of industry declines in year-over-year comparisons, domestic exhibitors and distributors gathered here for their annual confab will be looking for signs of renewed moviegoer appetite as studios unspool a whopping six wide openers.

Prominently positioned in that bevy of films, Sony's comic book adaptation "30 Days of Night" is looking strong with young males. Horror fans should flesh out its fanboy base, with young females perhaps responding to the casting of Josh Hartnett and Melissa George in starring roles.

Industryites see "30 Days" easily opening in the high-teen millions.

But other films in the competitive fray could show boxoffice flair as well, with young males numbering in potential support for Fox Atomic's sports spoof "The Comebacks." The overlap with "30 Days' " core demo is unfortunate, but "Comebacks" should bow somewhere in the low-double-digit millions.

Miramax's drama "Gone Baby Gone" has gotten a lot of exposure for Ben Affleck's dual role as a writer-director of the private-eye production. But prerelease tracking is difficult to sort out, and predicting the "Baby" bow would be particularly perilous.

After all, just last weekend, Warner Bros.' George Clooney starrer "Michael Clayton" was considered to have good opening promise, only to finish fourth in the frame. The weekend was won by Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?" from Lionsgate, with second place going to Disney's "The Game Plan" in its third week of release and Sony's "We Own the Night" opening in the bronze-medal position.

"Clayton" had been expected to top the frame, but "Married" came almost from out of nowhere. The first evidence that prerelease tracking about the films' respective market strengths came when online presales for "Married" spiked just before its Friday bow.

All of the holdovers will be seeking to buck the industry's recent trend toward big second-weekend drops, with "Clayton" in particular of the older-skewing sort that often takes a couple sessions to find its audience.

Assuming "Married," "Night" and "Clayton" each rings up 50% of their opening grosses during their respective second frames — in what these days would actually be considered acceptable "holds" — that would deliver sophomore performances of $10.7 million, $5.5 million and $5.2 million, respectively.

Elsewhere this weekend, New Line's CIA suspense drama "Rendition," starring Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal, also opens in wide release. Ditto for DreamWorks/Paramount's emotional drama "Things We Lost in the Fire."

Boxoffice handicappers reckon that audiences for the more adult-skewing pair might take extra time checking them out, with critics' reviews perhaps guiding grosses in individual markets. Still, "Rendition" will be gunning for at least $10 million or so, and the toplining combo of Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro should be good enough to get "Fire" within shouting distance of a similar number.

Overall, it appears that the weekend has the makings of yet another session in which distribution executives will be acknowledging by Sunday that their films' best chances for success lay in baring sturdy legs. Fortunately, awards season approaches, and many of the films boast casts whose performances are certain to get close awards consideration scrutiny.

The MGM-distributed "Lars and the Real Girl" adds screens this weekend. Likewise for Sony Picture Classics' "Sleuth" and Fox Searchlight's "The Darjeeling Limited."
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