'Forbidden Kingdom' likely to top boxoffice

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This weekend should put a much-needed notch in the win column for Hollywood.

Eight of the past nine boxoffice sessions have underperformed year-ago frames, but the comparisons get easier for the rest of April.

This weekend compares with an $88 million session last year in which the New Line crime drama "Fracture" topped four wide openers with just $11 million. Three of Friday's wide releases could gross more than that, and martial arts fantasy "The Forbidden Kingdom" from Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. looks likely to bow at No. 1 with up to $20 million.

"We'll be very happy with a gross of $15 million or beyond, but tracking certainly indicates that we have a shot at doing in the high teens or better," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.

Starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan in their first screen pairing and helmed by Rob Minkoff ("Stuart Little"), "Kingdom" has earned mixed early reviews but should attract mostly younger moviegoers who eschew critics' brickbats.

The Weinstein Co.'s co-financing on "Kingdom" represents a first release tied to its recently unveiled Asian Fund.

Universal has mounted an edgy campaign for its R-rated comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," with billboard messages including "You suck, Sarah Marshall" getting lots of free ink.

"It's nice when people out there comment, almost completely positively, about a campaign," said Adam Fogelson, Universal's president of worldwide marketing and distribution. "But clever for the sake of clever doesn't win you anything."

Toss in solid reviews that "Marshall" has attracted, and you might have something. Fortuitously, prerelease tracking on "Marshall" doesn't suck, so a bow in the mid-teen millions seems safely within reach.

If the tough-to-track college crowd comes out in big numbers for "Marshall" -- which counts comedy kingpin Judd Apatow among its producers -- something a bit more lucrative could be in the offing. Apatow's openings have proven hard to forecast, but the April slotting for "Marshall" suggests that it should bow somewhere between the $21.4 million rung up by "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" in August 2005 and last month's $10.3 million debut for "Drillbit Taylor."

Elsewhere, Sony's thriller "88 Minutes" has drawn tough reviews. Yet it appears that the Al Pacino starrer could fetch as much as $10 million, targeting older moviegoers.

Also this weekend, Rocky Mountain Pictures unspools the creation-theory documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" in 1,000-plus locations. The docu purports an establishment conspiracy to keep the "intelligent design" creation theory from being discussed in public schools, with actor-pundit Ben Stein serving as interviewer.

Advance ticket sales through church groups have been robust, and booking interest was decent until the distributor ran out of prints. The docu should do best in heartland markets, and a bow in the single-digit millions seems likely.
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