Everybody's making way for WB's 'Watchmen'

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Warner Bros. execs have been predicting for weeks that "Watchmen" will be huge at the boxoffice this weekend. Don't expect them to be proved wrong.

Co-produced by Warners and Legendary Pictures, "Watchmen" also will have execs at Fox rooting for its success. The studio is in line to receive as much as 8.5% of the pic's worldwide gross in a settlement of a legal fight between Warners and Fox over the film's release rights. Paramount has foreign rights.

No studio has dared schedule a wide release to open opposite the gritty superheroes actioner, whose two-hour, 40-minute running time could hamper daily grosses a bit but likely won't keep "Watchmen" from ringing up $60 million or more through Sunday. Similarly, early reviews have been mixed, but that won't matter much to fans of the 1980s comic series — by writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons — on which the film is based.

"Watchmen" stars Malin Akerman ("27 Dresses") and Billy Crudup ("The Good Shepherd") and was directed by Zack Snyder, helmer of blockbuster "300." Some question whether it can match the $71 million rung up by "300" during its opening weekend in March 2007, but Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said he welcomes the challenge.

"It gives you something to shoot for," Fellman said.

"300" registered $28 million during its first day, offering yet another target for "Watchmen." Helpfully, Warners has secured a staggering 3,611 engagements for the release — the highest theater count ever for a R-rated film.

Fandango said advance ticket sales were outpacing those for "300" amid reports of broad sellouts for hundreds of midnight showings of "Watchmen." The film will play in 124 Imax venues, with outsized grosses expected from the giant-screen auditoriums.

"This is a movie whose DNA is a direct hit with the Imax audience of techies who have supported us over the past few years," Imax Film Entertainment president Greg Foster said.

Fandango polled 1,000 moviegoers planning to view the film this weekend, and 57% said they would be attending with a group of friends, 85% had seen "300," 73% of those surveyed were male, and 65% were ages 18-34.

Elsewhere this weekend, Disney execs will hope to sustain first-week traction with young fans of the Jonas Brothers pop group, whose "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience" unspooled with a less-than-expected $12.5 million last session.

Fox Searchlight will try to maintain a post-Oscars bounce for India-set drama "Slumdog Millionaire," which rung up an impressive $12 million during its 16th weekend in release to push its cume to $115 million. "Slumdog" stands a good chance of grabbing the silver medal this weekend after posting notably strong midweek grosses.

Focus Features' "Milk" also will try to milk post-Oscar grosses following a decent session for the biopic, which boasts a $30 million cume through 14 weeks.

Meanwhile, Hollywood will be striving for another big uptick in year-over-year comparisons of industry grosses for the frame. Nielsen EDI datas show increases in weekend tallies in seven of the eight frames this boxoffice year.
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