Summer's big dogs will be chasing Fox

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Fox is sitting in the pole position.

With one weekend to go before the start of the year's most important boxoffice season, Fox is No. 1 in the domestic market-share race with 18.8% and $473 million in 2008 grosses, according to Nielsen EDI data. But No. 2 Warner Bros. — boasting a 14.7% market share on $370.4 million — will be gunning to overtake the leader on the strength of a turbocharged summer slate.

By contrast, Fox has charted a more conservative summer course. Its biggest releases include the Eddie Murphy comedy "Dave," bowing July 11, and "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," unspooling July 25.

Warners has films on its summer slate that potentially are higher-grossing but also pricier and riskier.

Those include the high-profile film adaptation of "Get Smart" (June 20) and the Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" (July 18). But Warners' gutsiest gambit comes May 9 with the release of the Wachowskis-directed "Speed Racer," a PG-rated action film based on a one-time Saturday-morning cartoon.

Sony is positioned third behind the year-to-date leaders, with 11.7% market share on grosses totaling $295.4 million. Its summer sizzle includes Fourth of July weekend opener "Hancock," starring Will Smith, and the Adam Sandler laugher "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," opening June 6.

Of Fox's six wide releases to date, the animated feature "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" has made the most generous contribution to company coffers and represents the industry's only $100 million grosser this year with $145 million. Other winter hits included the Hayden Christensen fantasy "Jumper" ($79 million), and more recently Fox has seen spring success with the Jodie Foster starrer "Nim's Island" ($33 million).

"We have had this marvelously eclectic slate, which production has delivered and marketing has made the most of," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said. "I'm not sure at the end of the year that market share counts as much as profitability, but we'd like to lead in both."

Warners' '08 releases have been topped by the $92 million performance to date of the prehistoric adventure film "10,000 BC."

"We're in very, very good shape right now, and I think were going to have a record year," Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman said.

That would mean two in a row for Warners, which last year rung up a studio-high $1.42 billion domestically.

Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Jeff Blake said his studio is well-positioned to keep pace with top market-share competitors for the rest of the year. Studio successes have included a pair of overachievers in "Vantage Point" ($72 million) and "21" ($70 million).

"It always works best when you break the calendar year down in parts, and we've been pleased with the first months of the year," Blake said. "For May through August, we've got a lineup anybody would like to have, and that should put us in great position for the last quarter of the year."

Sony's fourth-quarter releases will include the James Bond film "Quantum of Solace," set for Nov. 7.

Meanwhile, it would be tougher for those currently ranked lower in market-share rankings to overtake the leaders simply on summer boxoffice. But the precise pecking order among the top studios is sure to change, with the huge summer boxoffice amounting to more than 40% or more of the 12-month boxoffice each of the past three years, according to EDI data.

At present, Disney sits fourth on the year with 10.3% and $258.7 million, while Paramount is fifth with 9.2% and $232.3 million. Lionsgate is sixth with 6.8% and $170.1 million, followed by Universal with 6.7% and $168.2 million.

Paramount won the 2007 boxoffice derby with 15.5% market share and $1.49 billion. The studio also topped summer tallies on the strength of DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek the Third" and the DreamWorks/Paramount co-production "Transformers."

Paramount's summer '08 tentpoles are two of the industry's biggest: the comic book adaptation "Iron Man," which bows May 2 over the first summer weekend, and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which will debut over the Memorial Day frame amid industry expectations that the action sequel could prove the season's highest-grossing film.

" 'Indiana Jones' could do $300 million-plus domestically and possibly $1 billion world," estimated David Davis, managing partner and boxoffice analyst at Arpeggio Partners in Los Angeles.
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