Studios happy with Christmas presence

No new wide openers set this weekend

Hollywood hasn't had to resort to any post-Christmas half-off sales.

Holiday releases -- ranging from warm puppy "Marley & Me" to kid-friendly "Bedtime Stories" to the luxe backward-running romance "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" -- attracted a stampede to the multiplex last weekend.

So the studios will ring out 2008 on the strength of their current year-end lineup as the industry heads toward another record-setting domestic gross.

With the coming New Year's holiday weekend serving as an opportunity for moviegoers to catch up with the film glut, including the awards-hopefuls still in limited release, no new wide openers will flood the already overcrowded theaters.

Instead, Paramount Vantage will launch exclusive runs of its World War II drama "Defiance" while ThinkFilm follows suit with its Nazi-era drama "Good."

Directed by Ed Zwick, who also penned the screenplay with Clayton Frohman, the R-rated "Defiance" is as much action picture as it is art house offering. Based on actual events, the movie stars Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell as Jewish brothers who lead an encampment in the Belorussia forest that fights off the German army. Paramount had planned to open the film wide in mid-December, but now it will roll out the pic for broader audiences on Jan. 16.

ThinkFilm will test the waters with exclusive openings of Vincente Amorim's "Good," an adaptation of the play by C.P. Taylor. The drama revolves around the relationship between Viggo Mortensen, playing a German literary professor whose work is taken up by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, and Jason Isaacs, who plays the professor's Jewish friend.

Meanwhile, buoyed by good weekday numbers and potentially strong holds over the holiday weekend, overall domestic boxoffice is poised to set a record. As of Sunday, 2008's year-to-date boxoffice stood at $9.45 billion, according to Nielsen EDI. By the close of business Sunday -- bringing down the curtain on the boxoffice year -- 2008 should surpass 2007's record haul of $9.62 billion by a couple of percentage points.

The only caveat is that the record will be a result of rising ticket prices. Actual admissions are running 4%-5% behind last year's levels, which reached 1.41 billion.

The market share crown will go to Warner Bros., which early this week crossed the $1.7 billion mark to edge past the previous studio record set by Sony in 2006.

Warners, of course, got a boost from "The Dark Knight," the year's top-grossing film with nearly $531 million in domestic ticket sales. But the studio also benefited by absorbing New Line Cinema, which contributed such hit titles as "Sex and the City," "Four Christmases" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth."

Paramount, which led the field last year with $1.49 billion, will increase its total this year. It stands in second place among studios with nearly $1.6 billion heading into the last week. Paramount could boast of such top grossers as "Iron Man," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Kung Fu Panda."

Poised to capture the third spot is Sony with about $1.3 billion as "Hancock" ($228 million) led its hit parade.

Last weekend, Universal, where "Mamma Mia! ($144.1 million) was the top-grossing movie, achieved a studio personal best as it ran its yearly total to $1.107 billion.

The battle for the fifth position will probably turn into something of a photo finish. As of Sunday, less than $1 million separated Fox and Disney.

Fox's register had raked in $979 million, while Disney's rang up $978 million. The final result will probably depend on the relative holding power of Fox's "Marley," last weekend's top movie, and Disney's "Bedtime," the weekend's No. 2 film. Fox also will pick up some extra coin from "The Day the Earth Stood Still," heading into its fourth weekend, while Disney could wring a few more pennies out of "Bolt," now winding down in its seventh frame.
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