Wide openers must deal with 'Hangover'

Two new releases to compete with tough holdovers

The stars come out at the boxoffice this weekend.

The frame's two wide openers feature top-name talent. Sony unspools a remake of the 1974 subway-hijacking thriller "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, while Paramount debuts the PG-rated comedy "Imagine That," toplined by Eddie Murphy.

Yet the fight for No. 1 could prove to be a rematch of last weekend's boxoffice slugfest between Warner Bros.' and Legendary Pictures' R-rated comedy "The Hangover" and Disney/Pixar's 3-D animated feature "Up."

"Hangover" captured the boxoffice flag with a much stronger-than-expected opening-weekend gross of $45 million, and its midweek grosses have been equally outsized. If its strong word-of-mouth can generate sufficient soph-session momentum, it should register at least half as much boxoffice this weekend as last.

"Up" had looked like a repeat boxoffice victor last weekend until final figures showed that "Hangover" had a better Sunday than originally estimated. "Up" only dropped 35% from its first Friday-Sunday tally, so it would seem likely to hold up decently this frame and compete for one of the top three spots in the weekend rankings.

The original "Pelham" featured Walter Matthau in a transit-cop role tweaked a bit for Washington in the remake. Robert Shaw was the hijacker in the original, with Travolta filling that role in the new film.

There also was a 1998 "Pelham" telefilm, starring Edward James Olmos in the original Matthau role and Vincent D'Onofrio as the hijacker.

Sony distribution president Rory Bruer believes "Pelham" has a lot going for it this frame.

"We have two big stars in a mano a mano confrontation, and it just works beautifully," Bruer said. "So we expect the results to be fantastic, certainly as it plays into the rest summer."

Must-see interest in the film is strongest among older males, and "Pelham" -- which has James Gandolfini and John Turturro in supporting roles -- looks set for a first-frame haul in the $20 million-$25 million range. That should be enough to finish in one of the weekend's medal positions, with a shot at a No. 1 bow if the pic overperforms lustily.

Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick ("Over the Hedge"), "Imagine" casts Murphy as a father whose daughter (Yara Shahidi) helps him apply fantasy-world solutions to real-life problems. Prerelease tracking shows OK family interest, and a bow in the teen millions may be doable.

"It's a bit of a sapling among redwoods," one industryite observed.

Limited openers set for today include Vivendi's "Call of the Wild 3-D," a family adventure starring Christopher Lloyd that's set for 15 playdates, and Sony Pictures Classics sci-fi thriller "Moon," starring Sam Rockwell, which debuts in eight locations in New York and Los Angeles.
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