'Alice in Wonderland' looking to top boxoffice

"Alice in Wonderland," left, and "Brooklyn's Finest"

VIDEO: Tim Burton's film could earn $75 mil or more

Through the looking glass and into the oh-so-lucrative third dimension.

The winter boxoffice season's first 3D tentpole hits movie theaters at 12:01 a.m. Friday as Disney opens Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" after sorting out concerns about the pic's tight theatrical window. Pre-release tracking looks strong in all demos, with must-see interest apparent well beyond family moviegoers.

Through Sunday, "Alice" could ring up $75 million or more, perhaps besting even the first-frame performance of "Avatar" -- a $77 million opener in mid-December. Of course, there's the added question of whether "Alice" will display anything like the 3D phenom's theatrical legs, a key consideration in light of the pic's $200 million-plus in production costs.
Also this weekend, Overture Films bows police thriller "Brooklyn's Finest," the fourth R-rated wide release in three sessions.

Inspired by the first of Lewis Carroll's classic children's books, "Alice" was briefly a flashpoint of controversy when Disney alerted exhibitors that the film's theatrical run would be cut to just under three months. In the end, all major circuits booked the film.

"Alice" boasts almost 3,000 3D screens, or less than half of its total run, with more than 3,700 domestic theaters programming the pic in one or both formats. The film also bows this week in 41 international territories; Japan, Spain, China and several other countries will get "Alice" in future months.

The film's cast includes Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and 20-year-old Australian Mia Wasikowska as Alice.

"We believe it will be a very strong four-quadrant movie," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said.

Adults with kids form a core base for the PG-rated pic, but adult fans of Burton and 3D enthusiasts should broaden audiences considerably. The diverse support for "Alice" has many predicting the biggest film opening in months.

"Alice" has lined up more than 1,000 witching-hour performances, which should generate a sum in the low-single-digit millions as part of a weekend debut likely to give Burton a new personal best. The filmmaker's biggest previous bow came with 2001's "Planet of the Apes," which rung up $68.5 million en route to a $180 million domestic haul.

In a potential distraction this weekend, Sunday's worldwide Oscar telecast might preoccupy some prospective moviegoers. But "Alice" would seem less vulnerable to the small-screen competition than more adult-oriented pics.

Those include three R-rated holdovers: "Shutter Island," Paramount's Leonardo DiCaprio starrer that's topped domestic rankings the past two sessions; Warner Bros.' buddy cop movie "Cop Out"; and Overture horror pic "The Crazies."

"Finest" stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and Wesley Snipes and appears to be tracking best among urban demos. A bow in the low-double-digit millions may be doable, but teen millions are unlikely and "Finest" is expected to finish outside of the frame's top rankings.

Also this session, Summit Entertainment will expand Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" by 103 theaters, bringing the Ewan McGregor starrer to 143 total venues. The well-reviewed British mystery totes $1.1 million in cumulative boxoffice.

On an industrywide basis, the weekend will be compared with a $117 million frame last year topped by the $55.2 million bow of Warner Bros.' "Watchmen." Year to date, 2010 is tracking almost 4% ahead of the same portion of last year, at $1.81 billion.