'Bangkok Dangerous' kicks off fall

Lionsgate begins quest for seasonal repeat

Welcome to the first boxoffice weekend of fall, a film-release season increasingly marked by the bows of prestige titles seeking early traction ahead of the looming awards season.

Most of that artier fare will hit the marketplace in October or later, however, with September tending to skew toward populist films of the less-than-tentpole variety. Meanwhile, the combination of platforming art house films and second-tier commercial titles contributes modestly to most studios' annual grosses, accounting for just 15% or less of the 12-month boxoffice in recent years.

Data tracker Nielsen EDI -- and most of the industry -- define the fall boxoffice season as running from the Tuesday after Labor Day through the Thursday before Thanksgiving. The season gets off to a rather sedate start this weekend, with just one film opening in wide release -- Lionsgate's "Bangkok Dangerous," whose lack of advance screenings for film critics may or may not reflect on the anticipated reception for the Nicolas Cage starrer.

A spokeswoman for Lionsgate said that as an action release, "Bangkok" was never going to be a critical darling. But the studio rep stressed that Lionsgate is high on opening-weekend prospects for the film.

Tracking data appears to indicate a bow somewhere north of $10 million, which means "Bangkok" should top the weekend's boxoffice rankings.

DreamWorks/Paramount's R-rated comedy "Tropic Thunder" turned in a three-peat performance atop the domestic boxoffice last weekend with $14.6 million during the four-day holiday frame. But even a 15% drop from the $11.5 million that "Tropic" fetched last Friday through Sunday means the leggy comedy would gross slightly less than $10 million this session and finally yield the weekend crown.

Focus Features' "Hamlet 2" also bears watching this weekend, not because of any chance of winning the frame but simply to see if the well-reviewed comedy can salvage a decent theatrical run despite its wobbly expansion into wide release last weekend.

The Steve Coogan-Catherine Keener starrer grossed just $2.1 million from 1,597 playdates for an inauspicious theater average of $1,331. But arguably, the holiday frame's four wide openers left little room to maneuver, so Focus will hope "Hamlet" can find its sea legs this session.

The Overture thriller "The Traitor" turned in the best per-theater average last weekend, so fingers are crossed at the fledgling indie that its Don Cheadle starrer -- Overture's first release of a self-produced film -- will build on that performance with a gutsy second session.

"Traitor" grossed $10 million from 2,054 theaters, or $4,872 per venue, last weekend.

The remake of a 1999 Thai film of the same name, "Bangkok" was helmed by the original's directors, Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang.

"We're expecting a solid opening, and we're well-positioned to play through the entire month," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.

Lionsgate dominated the fall boxoffice last year, with its $209 million in autumn coin and 16% market share topping the seasonal grosses of all of the major studios. This time, the minimajor enters the fall with its second release in a string of wide openers that Lionsgate will unspool over five consecutive weekends.

The first film in that spree of releases -- Labor Day-weekend debutante "Disaster Move" -- opened weakly with $6.9 million during its first four days. Next up will be "Tyler Perry's the Family That Preys," set to unspool Sept. 12.

Although likely to appeal primarily to Perry's urban base of support, executives hope the casting of Kathy Bates in a key "Family" role might finally expand the multihyphenate's appeal into broader demographics.