A crowded b.o. table


One or more of Wednesday's three wide openers could turn out to be a boxoffice turkey, but distributors see the long Thanksgiving session as a lucrative opportunity for new pics and holdovers alike.

Among debutants set for the holiday frame:

> Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy "Four Christmases" features Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. The topliners' established audience appeal offers a sturdy base of support, and prerelease tracking surveys show sufficiently broad interest to make "Christmases" a front-runner among the new releases.

>Lionsgate's Jason Statham starrer "Transporter 3" has Frenchman Olivier Megaton directing for producers Luc Besson and Steven Chasman. Young males appear a dependable fan base for the action franchise, so the sequel should start particularly well and hunker down in second place among the new pics throughout the five-day span.

> Fox's Baz Luhrmann-helmed "Australia" stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in an action adventure of epic sweep and 165-minute running time. The film — whose $130 million in production costs were cut to $78 million through Aussie tax rebates — has drawn encouraging early reviews, and tracking indicates good interest among older moviegoers.

All three wide openers carry PG-13 ratings.

Also Wednesday, Focus Features will open Gus Van Sant's R-rated Harvey Milk biopic "Milk" in 35 theaters in 21 markets.

A period political drama depicting events leading up to the assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone, "Milk" has generated early awards-consideration buzz for Sean Penn's amiable performance in the title role. A notable ensemble cast features James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna.

Meantime, Summit Entertainment's youth phenom "Twilight" and Disney's animated family comedy "Bolt" enter their sophomore sessions in wide release. The James Bond film "Quantum of Solace" from Sony and MGM also should play well during its third domestic frame.

"Twilight" will be scrutinized over whether its big opening will be followed by an equally sizable drop in interest, while "Bolt" will bear watching for signs of a leggy run to compensate for its wobbly opening.

Summit's vampire pic is likely to outgross "Christmases" over five days, but the Warners comedy could get the last laugh with a bigger Friday-Sunday tally. Nielsen will rank pics according to their three-day performances.

It's a bit unclear how heavily "Twilight" will drop from its opening grosses. But if repeat biz proves as robust as expected, its tumble could prove relatively modest.

"We're confident," Summit distribution topper Richie Fay said.

However the precise pecking order turns out, distributors know the day before Thanksgiving and the holiday itself historically tend to register outsized daily grosses that make for an effective five-day frame.

"The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is always a very good day," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "And Thursday is good for family films."

Fox distribution boss Bruce Snyder said that "Australia" doesn't need a huge opening, just a solid one, to establish the film in the lucrative holiday marketplace.

"Pictures that work tend to hold beautifully through this time period," he noted.

In a quirk of the calendar, the weekend will be compared to a nonholiday 2007 frame in which the industry registered a ho-hum $84 million. (partialdiff)
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