BOXOFFICE PREVIEW- Batman may bow down to 'Mummy'

Uni threequel 'Dragon Emperor' has energized fan base of the long-dormant franchise

This is the weekend we get to see whether Batman gets whooped by somebody's mummy.

Universal unspools "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" seven years after the franchise's first sequel, "The Mummy Returns," opened with $68 million en route to $202 million domestically.

Warner Bros.' latest Batman sequel, "The Dark Knight," appears likely to gross $40 million or so during its third session. So even if "Dragon Emperor" bows south of the first sequel but north of the 1999 franchise progenitor's $43.4 million opening — part of a $155.4 million domestic haul — the latest sequel to "The Mummy" would have a good shot at winning the frame.

The addition of Jet Li as a villain in the threequel seems to have nicely restoked interest among the franchise's fan base. With much of the film shot in rural China, publicists have been able to attract always-helpful advance press coverage of the release. Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello and Michelle Yeoh also star.

Prerelease tracking would seem to suggest an opening of up to $50 million for "Dragon Emperor." A big third-session drop for "Dark Knight" would help if the Universal film is to reach that mark.

Also this weekend, Disney debuts the likely older-skewing political comedy "Swing Vote," starring Kevin Costner.

His 12-year-old co-star Madeline Carroll ("Resident Evil: Extinction") shares large amounts of screen time with Costner, and a secondary story line involves his bumbling single-parent relationship with his daughter. So combined with a PG-13 rating, that could broaden on the natural audience for Costner and swing "Vote" into the family film category.

But first-weekend boxoffice should be limited to the single-digit millions, so Disney will hope for maximum playability over future frames to pad the film's theatrical grosses during the longer run. Not that the next few sessions won't be competitive.

In fact, each of the next four weekends will see at least one wide opener unspool on a Wednesday to stimulate advance word-of-mouth.

There are two Wednesday openers next week: Sony's stoner comedy "Pineapple Express" and Warners' female-targeting sequel "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2." The action comedy "Tropic Thunder" from Paramount and DreamWorks arrives Aug. 13, Fox debuts its music-themed comedy "The Rocker" on Aug. 20 and Overture sends out its thriller "Traitor" on Aug. 27.

"Everybody's trying to get their last licks in," one top distribution exec said in describing the trend. "Once the kids go back to school, you lose your summer playtime." (partialdiff)
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