DW is Par's transformer

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Paramount will cop the 2007 domestic boxoffice laurels, offering tangible evidence of how much its DreamWorks acquisition has paid off for the once-struggling studio.

The five-day New Year's weekend will further pad distributor and industry boxoffice tallies, but it's already apparent that Par will be at the top of the distributor rankings. The studio rang up $1.47 billion through Christmas, safely north of the $1.34 billion registered by Warner Bros.' films.

Warners executives expect a big third session for the Will Smith smash "I Am Legend," and grosses for Paramount's DreamWorks-produced "Sweeney Todd" likely are to be confined to the single-digit millions. But another $25 million or so for "Legend" won't affect the final market share pecking order.

Elsewhere among the year's top distributor rankings, Disney is sure to grab the bronze medal position, with $1.27 billion in studio coffers through Tuesday. Sony will be fourth on the year with $1.21 billion through Christmas, while Universal finishes fifth with $1.07 billion and counting.

In a heartening triumph for always-anxious theatrical executives, 2007 represents the first year in which five distributors have grossed more than $1 billion domestically. It also is likely that the year will mark annual upticks in grosses and admissions, with $9.23 billion in industry grosses representing a 5.4% improvement compared the same portion of last year and easily outpacing any ticket-price inflation.

Paramount crossed the $1 billion threshold for the second time, first doing so with "Titanic" in 1998 when it last topped the domestic boxoffice. This time, Par managed its feat largely on the strength of its DreamWorks-produced movies like "Transformers," which contributed $319.1 million, and films Par distributed for DreamWorks Animation including "Shrek the Third," a $321 million performer.

The top Par-branded release this year was "Beowulf," which used 700 3-D screens to lift domestic grosses to $80.6 million. To give a sense of the impact of DWA and DreamWorks films on studio performance, consider that the "Shrek" sequel and "Transformers" will be the Nos. 2 and 3 films of the year, while "Beowulf" ranked outside of the top 30 headed into the final boxoffice weekend.

"Transformers" was planned as a Par/DreamWorks collaboration even before 2006's DreamWorks acquisition, said Rob Moore, Paramount's president of worldwide marketing, distribution and operations.

"That movie kind of typifies the kind of movie we want to make and also the kind of organization we now have," he said. "Paramount has a world-class marketing and distribution business."

DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan lauded the Par-DreamWorks combo, citing a "combination of top filmmakers, DreamWorks creative executives (and) a stellar marketing team."

Some will suggest that DreamWorks' production operations will be upended if Steven Spielberg and David Geffen bolt Par when their personal contracts expire in November. But the pair remain actively engaged in several ongoing projects, including the as-yet-unslotted "Transformers 2."

As for Par's distribution-only outings, the studio hopes to mimic its success with DWA with a new distribution relationship with Marvel Entertainment, starting May 2 with the release of "Iron Man."

Elsewhere among the year's top distributor rankings, Warners passed the $1 billion mark for an unprecedented seventh time. The studio's solid year is exemplified by its releasing two $200 million-plus grossers — "300" ($210.6 million) and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ($292 million) — and having "Legend" push that benchmark with $151 million through Christmas.

Disney had three top 10 films this year, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" ($309.4 million), "Ratatouille" ($206.4 million) and "Wild Hogs" ($168.3 million).

Sony's year was linchpinned by 2007's best-grossing film, "Spider-Man 3" ($336.5 million). And Universal, whose top performer was "The Bourne Ultimatum" ($227.5 million), is on track to post its biggest boxoffice year ever.

"This has been a fantastic turnaround year for the entire company," Universal chairman Marc Shmuger said. "This will our most profitable year in the studio's history."

Meanwhile, four of the top five distributors will have films vying for top spots in this weekend's boxoffice rankings.

With no new wide openers, Disney's "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" could well finish No. 1 for a second frame in a row after ringing up $65.4 million during the long Christmas frame.

"Legend" should finish second, but Warners' "P.S. I Love You" is unlikely to figure prominently in New Year's rankings. And Uni's "Charlie Wilson's War" will be watched for signs of leggy life, after the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts starrer opened solidly with $16 million during the long yuletide session.

Fox, which looks headed for sixth place on the year with just short of $1 billion, has "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Alien vs. Predator" still playing strongly. The latter Christmas opener rang up $9.5 million during its first day and is expected to register $30 million-$40 million by session's end.

The weekend's high-profile expansions include Fox Searchlight's creeper hit "Juno" adding 694 theaters for a total of 998. And Uni's Focus Features has its Working Title platformer "Atonement" hitting 310 theaters, 13 more than last weekend.
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