As sure as day turns to 'Knight'

'Step Brothers,' 'X-Files' can't touch Batman sequel in its sophomore frame

The big question this boxoffice session is whether a big second weekend for "The Dark Knight" darkens prospects for the frame's wide openers.

After setting a record with its $158.4 million domestic bow last weekend, you have to figure the latest Batman sequel for at least $60 million this frame, even if "Dark Knight," starring Christian Bale, marks a big decline during its sophomore session. Midweek grosses have been strong, however, so Warner Bros. could post an even bigger number this weekend.

Suffice to say, neither of today's wide openers will get anywhere close to "Dark Knight." Sony sends out its comedy "Step Brothers," while Fox opens its sci-fi thriller "The X-Files: I Want to Believe."

Sony's R-rated comedy "Step Brothers," starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, looks likely to gross about $25 million during its opening weekend. That should secure it a silver-medal finish for the session.

Neither of the film's topliners has set the boxoffice on fire with their recent comedy releases, but the duo hit big with "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." The NASCAR sendup — which like "Step Brothers" was helmed by Adam McKay — unspooled in August 2006 with $47 million en route to a domestic haul of $148.2 million.

Ferrell co-wrote "Step Brothers" with McKay, with whom he also penned "Talladega." And like that comedy, it should play heavily male.

"We have a good shot for No. 2," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

"The X-Files: I Want to Believe," the second film based on the Fox TV series, looks credible to open well into the teen millions, with some suggesting it could tiptoe past $20 million.

The first big-screen adaptation bowed with $30.1 million in June 1998 and grossed $83.9 million domestically. Outsized foreign grosses brought its worldwide cume to $189.2 million.

This time, prerelease tracking is decent with fans of the show but iffy elsewhere. Even fans might hesitate to rush out to see an "X-Files" film more than six years after the TV series went off the air.

"It's kind of an unknown commodity, though it's a very satisfying film and was made at the right price," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said.

Production costs on the film are estimated at less than $30 million.

Meanwhile, Universal is looking for a nice second-session hold for last weekend's female magnet "Mamma Mia!" Indie distributors also will tread back into the specialty waters with several notable expansions after mostly staying clear of "Dark Knight."

Music Box mounted one of the few big expansions last weekend, with its French- language crime thriller "Tell No One" adding 36 playdates for a total of 55 to gross $400,947. Reaping benefits from the gutsy gambit, the performance represented an impressive $7,290 per venue and pushed its cume to $1.1 million. (partialdiff)
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