Calmer waters in sequels' wake

'Knocked Up' to lead newbies as super bows take a week off

After a month of high-octane, A-list tentpoles, the North American boxoffice gets a breather of sorts this session as not one sequel enters the marketplace. It will be a brief respite, however, as Warner Bros. Pictures' "Ocean's Thirteen" hits theaters June 8.

Theater counts for the weekend's new films are coming down to earth; not one of the frame's three new wide releases will be in more than 3,000 locations. It's a far cry from the unprecedented heights of the past four weeks, when the top films were playing in or opened in more than 4,000 theaters apiece.

Overall, Buena Vista Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" will hold on to the top spot, followed by Paramount Pictures' "Shrek the Third" from DreamWorks Animation. The new wide opener "Knocked Up" from Universal Pictures most likely will finish third, ahead of Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3."

"Knocked Up" arrives in 2,871 theaters as an alternative to the plethora of sequels nationwide and in Canada. The film is written and directed by Judd Apatow, who also directed Universal's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and was a producer on Sony Pictures' "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and Universal's "Kicking & Screaming."

"Virgin" opened in August 2005 to a respectable $21.4 million, found its legs and went on to generate $109.2 million by the time it left theaters in December — a nice run, especially by today's standards. "Virgin" also was an R-rated film that appealed to a demographic similar to the one "Knocked Up" is eyeing.

Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl (ABC's "Grey's Anatomy") star in the romantic comedy, which centers on an up-and-coming entertainment journalist (Heigl) who becomes pregnant after a drunken one-night stand with a lovable slacker (Rogen). She decides to give him a chance, and he faces the question of whether he will hit the road or stay with the mom-to-be.

"Knocked Up" will appeal largely to males and females in the 18-34 demo but could find a wider audience as early polling has found interest across the board.

Industry observers think the film should open in the high-teen millions. The distributor is hoping the film has legs along the lines of "Virgin."

MGM's "Mr. Brooks," a crime drama about the destructive path of a violent serial killer (Kevin Costner), debuts in 2,453 theaters this weekend. The R-rated feature, co-starring William Hurt and Demi Moore and directed by Bruce A. Evans, is expected to arrive at the boxoffice in the $10 million range.

The only other wide release is Picturehouse's "Gracie," which bows in 1,164 theaters. The film, inspired by a true story, is set in the 1970s and centers on a teenage girl who fights to play on the boys' varsity soccer team after the tragic death of her soccer champion brother. She ultimately wins the right for girls everywhere to play.

Elisabeth Shue, Dermot Mulroney and Carly Schroeder star in the family-friendly inspirational sports drama. The PG-13 film is directed by Davis Guggenheim.

More specialized fare is hoping to cash in this weekend as a host of limited releases hit theaters.

IDP/Destination Films/ Samuel Goldwyn Films' "Rise: Blood Hunter" will be in 25 theaters; Fox Searchlight's "Day Watch" will be in five locations; Magnolia Pictures' "Crazy Love" will have three engagements; IFC First Take's "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman" will unspool in three houses; and Palm Pictures' "Ten Canoes" will be in limited release in New York.
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