A hero's welcome for 'Beowulf'

Should be poetry

The weekend's boxoffice crown should be copped by an animated feature based on an Old English epic poem.

Let that sink in for a second. Then know this is Robert Zemeckis' passion project "Beowulf" we're talking about, and it becomes a little easier to understand why the battle-strewn film's tracking to open with as much as $30 million domestically.

Other wide openers during the busy pre-Thanksgiving frame include Fox's family fantasy "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," with Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman, and New Line's literary adaptation "Love in the Time of Cholera."

Paramount Vantage's Nicole Kidman starrer "Margot at the Wedding" and Magnolia's Brian De Palma-helmed "Redacted" bow in limited release.

Paramount is distributing "Beowulf" domestically, and Warner Bros. will distribute internationally.

"It has the look and feel of a movie that will perform stronger internationally than domestically," said David Davis, managing partner and entertainment adviser at Arpeggio Partners in Los Angeles. "It's kind of an action-adventure with a cast that should play well overseas."

Brit Ray Winstone performs in the title role of the motion-capture production, with John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie co-starring.

The animation was done by Sony Pictures Imageworks, with "Beowulf's" overall budget running at an estimated $150 million. Steve Bing's Shangri-La Entertainment provided about two-thirds of the funding for the film.

Prerelease tracking shows good strength in all demographics except for older women, and younger males have displayed truly avid anticipation for "Beowulf."

Such rosy surveys leave studio insiders pretty confident of ringing up at least $25 million during the film's opening frame, with a solid weekend of moviegoing potentially fueling an opening something north of that figure. "Beowulf" will play in about 3,100 theaters and will be offered in 3-D projection on 700 screens.

"Emporium" looks likely limited to an opening somewhere in the teen millions, so third-week titles "Bee Movie" from DreamWorks/Paramount and "American Gangster" from Universal/Imagine could have a shot at outmuscling the Hoffman-Portman opener in a fight for the weekend's silver- and bronze-medal positions.

Similarly, Warners' seasonal comedy "Fred Claus" likely will be limited to the low-double-digit millions during its second weekend and so probably will be squeezed out of the higher rankings. New Line's "Cholera," unspooling with about 800 runs, is unlikely to make it out of the single-digit millions.

Meanwhile, industryites also will be watching for signs that the market can finally shrug off the theatrical malaise that has hampered grosses in recent weeks.

In seven of the past eight weekends, industry boxoffice has underperformed the same frame a year earlier. Fall grosses are running 5% behind those from a year ago, though the industry still is tracking 6% ahead on a year-to-date basis.

Arpeggio's Davis said there's little reason to believe that the seasonal decline has much to do with anything more than unappealing movies.

"The low performance of the fall season holds no correlation to the holiday season," he said. "The studios put all their likely strong performers into the summer and the holidays, and they placed their less likely performers into the fall and spring. They did so this year even more so than usual, releasing a lot of the third-party-financed films in the spring and fall."