No opposable thumb for 'Hitcher'

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Although Hollywood didn't connect with horror fans last weekend with Buena Vista Pictures' "Primeval," it is trying again this frame with the unveiling of Focus Features' release of Rogue Pictures' "The Hitcher," a remake of Robert Harmon's 1986 film.

In the wake of the Golden Globes and preparing the way for Tuesday's Oscar nominations, Hollywood won't launch any other new wide releases this frame. Instead, the studios will expand a number of holdovers, hoping that the awards-season buzz will provide added heat on what could be a cold weekend at the movies.

From director David Meyers, the R-rated "Hitcher" stars Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton as a college couple driving cross-country who become prey for a dangerous hitchhiker (Sean Bean). Produced by Michael Bay, who breathed new life into the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" franchise, "Hitcher" opens in 2,831 theaters. Because it doesn't have nearly the cult appeal "Chainsaw" had, "Hitcher" is expected to gross

in the midteen-millions for the weekend.

Whether "Hitcher" captures the top spot could depend on how well Sony Pictures' "Stomp the Yard" holds in its second weekend. The urban dance-off film from Sylvain White was No. 1 last weekend, grossing $21.8 million over the Friday-Sunday portion of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday frame, but if it falls by 50%, it could open the door for "Hitcher" to ride into the top spot.

Meanwhile, the multiplexes will be dominated by award-winning holdovers. Paramount Pictures expanded "Dreamgirls" last weekend with the hopes it would win a Golden Globe for best motion picture comedy or musical, which it did. The calculation was that the film needed to be in as many theaters as possible, attracting the attention of more moviegoers, before the winners were announced. That way, should the film win -- "Dreamgirls" took home three trophies, including supporting actor nods for Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy -- it could pop this frame. The weekend results will be a test of that strategy.

In contrast, Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," which has grossed $4.8 million in limited release, expands to 609 theaters today as it builds on strong word-of-mouth and an astounding per-screen average; the film generated a three-day average of $11,180 per screen last weekend. The Spanish-language fantasy film from Guillermo del Toro already has crossed over from the art house community to the sci-fi/ fantasy audience, and this weekend could add significant dollars to its coffers.

Buoyed by Forest Whitaker's Golden Globe win for best dramatic actor, Fox Searchlight is re-expanding its Idi Amin biopic "The Last King of Scotland" to 495 theaters. Co-starring James McAvoy, "Scotland" is directed by Kevin Macdonald, who earned his stripes as a documentary filmmaker. The film has grossed $3.7 million to date, but considering its strong reviews, Searchlight is hoping the Globes victory will energize moviegoers.

Warner Bros. Pictures also hopes for the love of the Golden Globes to pay off with its expansion of "Letters From Iwo Jima." Clint Eastwood took the trophy for best foreign-language film, and Warners would like to see the added attention bring more moviegoers to the Japanese-language film, which stars Ken Watanabe.

In limited release, IFC First Take unveiled "Alone With Her" on Wednesday in one New York theater. Written and directed by Eric Nicholas, the film stars Colin Hanks as a man who plants hidden cameras in the apartment of a woman he is interested in. The unrated picture co-stars Ana Claudia Talancon and Jordana Spiro.

Sony Pictures Classics bows "The Italian" in Los Angeles and New York. Russia's official foreign-language Oscar submission centers on a 5-year-old orphan who is abandoned in a Russian village and adopted by an Italian family.
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