Dragons, spider menacing Smith

'Eragon,' 'Web,' 'Happyness' look to open north of $20 mil

Two high-profile family films and an adult drama starring Will Smith will duke it out for the top spot at the weekend boxoffice. How 20th Century Fox's "Eragon," Paramount Pictures' "Charlotte's Web" and Sony Pictures' "The Pursuit of Happyness" end up in the ranking has become a matter of great speculation among industryites.

Most agree that all three should end up in the $20 million range, but in which order is anyone's guess.

Fox's "Eragon" is tracking best with the Fandango crowd, but that's to be expected; the film about a magical dragon is attracting the "Lord of the Rings" set that is more likely to use the Internet to buy their tickets, according to the movie- ticketing site. Surprisingly, a lot of women are buying advance tickets, Fandango said.

Directed by Stefen Fangmeier, "Eragon" is a departure for many of those involved. It marks Fangmeier's directorial debut (he was the visual effects supervisor on "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" and "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World") and is the first fantasy special effects movie from Fox subsidiary Fox 2000. The film is based on the novel by Christopher Paolini, who wrote the story at age 15 and originally self-published it on the Internet. The PG film stars Ed Speleers as Eragon, a boy who stumbles upon a dragon's egg and discovers that he's the one person who can defend his home against an evil king. Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Djimon Hounsou co-star.

Smith is a proven commodity at the boxoffice. The rapper-turned-actor has opened his past four films north of $40 million. But it's not clear if he can do it with "Happyness." His previous movies have been high-grossing comedies ("Hitch"), action movies ("I, Robot") or a combination of the two ("Bad Boys II," "Men in Black II"). His dramatic turns, however, have not fared as well at the boxoffice; "Ali," for example, opened to $14.7 million in 2001.

This time around, Smith plays a struggling salesman who takes custody of his son as he embraces a life-changing professional endeavor. "Happyness" is likely to have a bigger bow than the Muhammad Ali biopic, but getting into the stratosphere of "Hitch" boxoffice isn't a guarantee. The film has been tracking well with audiences and could be the winner of the weekend, depending on which audience group has more free time. "Happyness" also should get an added boost from Thursday's Golden Globe nomination for Smith. "Happyness" is directed by Italian Gabriele Muccino and co-stars Thandie Newton and Smith's son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith.

Based on the E.B. White novel, the live-action/CG-animated "Web" is set to bow better than "Stuart Little," the White adaptation that opened to $15 million for Columbia Pictures in 1999. Starring Dakota Fanning and the voice talent of Julia Roberts and Steve Buscemi, "Web" is directed by Gary Winick and adapted by Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick.

Paramount also opens its Oscar contender "Dreamgirls" in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The PG-13 film, which received five Golden Globe nominations Thursday, stars Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. Bill Condon ("Kinsey") directed the musical, which has received very strong early reviews. The film expands wide Christmas Day.

Warner Bros. Pictures opens the Steven Soderbergh-directed "The Good German" today in five theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. The R-rated movie stars George Clooney as a journalist in postwar Berlin who is drawn into a murder investigation involving his former mistress and his driver. Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire and Beau Bridges co-star.
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