Boxoffice: It's 'Hannibal' vs. 'Norbit'

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After suffering through an anemic Super Bowl weekend at the boxoffice, Hollywood is counting on the fifth screen appearance of Hannibal Lecter as well as a comedian in a fat suit to restore life to the multiplex.

MGM releases the Weinstein Co.'s "Hannibal Rising" this weekend, while Paramount Pictures launches the Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit." But if the weekend boxoffice is to match that of last year at this time, both films must perform strongly to compete with the four new releases that bowed in the comparable frame in 2006.

Both of this weekend's new arrivals can point to precedents that suggest they should do business.

The 1991 Oscar-winning "The Silence of the Lambs" put Lecter, as played by Anthony Hopkins, on the map. (The character first appeared in 1986's "Manhunter," played by Brian Cox). In 2001, "Hannibal" opened to $58 million and hit a domestic gross of $165.1 million. "Red Dragon," the 2002 remake of "Manhunter," featured Hopkins reprising his role and bowed to $36.5 million on its way to a $93.2 million domestic gross.

That's good news for MGM, which launches the latest Hannibal movie -- an original story about the serial killer's formative years, based on the recent Thomas Harris novel -- in 3,003 theaters. The film features a cast of relative unknowns, including French actor Gaspard Ulliel as the young Hannibal. Peter Webber directs.

The movie follows Lecter from his childhood in Lithuania to his years as a young man in Paris and finally to the U.S., where he develops his taste for killing and human flesh. Gong Li and Rhys Ifans co-star in the R-rated film, produced by the Dino De Laurentiis Co. and marketed by the Weinstein Co.

Industry prognosticators expect the film to hit the $20 million mark. But with no stars and no appearance by Hopkins, the film is unlikely to live up to its predecessors' grosses.

In fact, it might even have a hard time challenging "Norbit" for boxoffice supremacy. Opening in 3,136 theaters, the Murphy starrer features the Oscar-nominated actor in three roles -- including an overbearing, overweight wife named Rasputia -- and also is likely to bow in the $20 million range.

Its challenge will be to equal the openings of Murphy's previous costume-heavy comedies; in 1996, his "Nutty Professor," based on the Jerry Lewis original, bowed to $25.4 million, and its sequel opened in 2000 to $42.5 million.

"Norbit," rated PG-13, is an original story about a meek man (Murphy) who is pressured into marrying Rasputia (also Murphy) but later falls in love with the woman of his dreams. Early reviews of the film, from producer John Davis' Davis Entertainment, have not been kind, and the base fat-girl humor may be overplayed, but the film still is likely to open strongly and should finish second overall behind "Hannibal."

With a dearth of family films in the marketplace, "Norbit" might be able to take advantage of the audience that has recently supported 20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum."

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics bows the German film "The Lives of Others" in Los Angeles and New York. Nominated for a best foreign-language film Oscar, the R-rated "Others" comes from first-timer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and centers on the secret service in communist East Germany.

The Weinstein Co. expands the Anthony Minghella-directed "Breaking and Entering" to 22 theaters. The R-rated movie, featuring Jude Law and Robin Wright Penn, bowed Jan. 28 on two screens to $21,160.

Middling reviews might keep the film from breaking out; its performance overseas has not been strong. It has earned the majority of its cash from its run in the U.K., scraping up $1.9 million since opening in November.
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