First and goal for 'Leatherheads'

Clooney leads rookies onto field for kickoff of uncertain April

The view on the theatrical horizon is a bit cloudy.

Industry opinion is mixed on whether April will be a help or hindrance in 2008's struggle to outpace the year-ago boxoffice totals.

Weekend comparisons from a year ago won't be particularly tough this month, but the more dour among industry handicappers view much of April's release schedule dubiously. Adding to their skepticism is a recently gloomy theatrical marketplace, with the industry boxoffice marking year-over-year declines in six of the past seven weekends.

Still, it appears that the month's first frame features one or more films with at least partly sunny theatrical prospects.

Today's wide openers include Universal's George Clooney-Renee Zellweger starrer "Leatherheads," a 1920s football drama with a good shot at topping the weekend boxoffice. Other openers include Fox Walden's family fantasy "Nim's Island," starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin and Gerard Butler, and DreamWorks/Paramount's horror film "The Ruins," an adaptation of the 2006 best-selling novel.

The Weinstein Co.'s high- profile drama "My Blueberry Nights" figures among the frame's limited openers and features the film debut of pop chanteuse Norah Jones plus performances by Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Rachel Weisz. Also, Paramount Classics' "Shine a Light," a Rolling Stones documentary directed by Martin Scorsese, unspools in 276 theaters, including 93 Imax venues.

Although perhaps not the glitziest vehicle in Clooney's career, "Leatherheads" is tracking well with older men and women, and interest seemed to be building this week among younger males. That breadth of appeal suggests a bow in at least the mid-teen millions for the film, which the topliner also directed.

"Island" overlaps a bit with Fox's own "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" But that animated feature — though likely again to gross in the double-digit millions this session — is hitting its fourth weekend in release and shouldn't keep "Island" from reaching its core female audience.

"I think 'Nim's' is going to be the favorite movie for mothers and daughters," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said. "But we're seeing good interest in male demos as well."

An adaptation of a kids book by Wendy Orr, "Island" was directed by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett ("Little Manhattan"). The PG film could reach the low-teen millions, which should be good enough for No. 2 or No. 3 for the frame.

Much depends on how Sony's college kids-hit-Vegas drama "21" performs during its sophomore session. "21" topped the domestic boxoffice last weekend with a $24.1 million bow, and a 50% hold would produce about $12 million during its second outing.

The R-rated "Ruins" was co-produced by Spyglass Entertainment and based on a Scott Smith novel. Helmed by music video director Carter Smith, "Ruins" will draw best among younger demos but could be limited to an opening in the mid- to high-single-digit millions.

Overall, though the wide and limited openers collectively should put together a respectable number, chances are good that the comparison with last year will go badly. The first weekend in April 2007 was Easter weekend, so the $124 million rung up represents the toughest comparison of the four frames this month.
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