'Panda,' 'Zohan' have a leg up

DreamWorks Ani's animals battle Sandler's hairdresser for weekend black belt

A couple of film characters adept at martial arts and anatomy-defying leg splits face off at movie theaters this weekend.

Paramount unspools DreamWorks Animation's family feature "Kung Fu Panda," which features a voice cast including Jack Black and Angelina Jolie, while Sony sends out the Adam Sandler comedy "You Don't Mess With the Zohan." Both are considered potential candidates to open the weekend atop the domestic boxoffice.

"Panda" — DWA's penultimate film in conventional CGI before a big 3-D push by the studio — looks like a lock to ring up at least $40 million domestically. "Zohan," whose topliner plays an Israeli commando-turned-New York hairdresser, should bow with at least $35 million but could spar with "Panda" for the frame's top spot if appeal proves broader than the male-skewing fan base for most Sandler releases.

"Men of all ages are totally up for it, (and) women have become enlisted as we have continued the campaign," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

Indeed, Paramount executives aren't ready to start polishing the weekend gold medal just yet.

"I think they're going to be neck and neck," Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore said of the frame's wide openers.

There are at least a couple of historical comparisons for each of the No. 1 wannabes.

"Panda" compares with DWA's May 2006 family comedy "Over the Hedge," which bowed at $38.5 million en route to $155 million domestically, and June 2007's Pixar/Disney film "Ratatouille," which opened with $47 million and grossed $206.4 million all told.

"Zohan" will be measured against Sandler's June 2006 comedy "Click," which Sony debuted with $40 million on the way to $137.4 domestically, and June 2007's Warner Bros.' heist pic "Ocean's Thirteen," which unspooled with $36.1 million and grossed $117.2 million overall.

Meanwhile, last weekend's chart-topper "Sex and the City" from Warner Bros./ New Line seems likely to take a big plunge during its sophomore session, but the female-skewing comedy still could pull in $25 million or so this session. That should give it a bronze-medal finish for the frame and likely just outperform the waning "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" from Paramount/Lucasfilm.

Industry officials hope the holdovers manage a solid enough weekend to combine with the two big openers for another nice notch in the win column.

Collectively, the domestic boxoffice was up about 27% last weekend compared with the same frame a year ago. That has spurred renewed hope that the summer boxoffice might heat up sufficiently to cope more successfully for the balance of the season with difficult year-ago comparisons with summer 2007, a record scorcher. (partialdiff)
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