Big bite

Brace for a b.o. bounty

The boxoffice weekend is shaping up as the kind that industry executives dream about. Just look at the frame's wide openers: Summit Entertainment's youthful vampire film "Twilight" and Disney's animated family comedy "Bolt" each target reasonably distinct audiences and should open north of $50 million and $40 million, respectively.

Then consider that last weekend's James Bond behemoth "Quantum of Solace" should register well above $30 million for Sony and MGM. And family laugher "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" ought to ring up more than $20 million for DreamWorks Animation and Paramount.

Do the math, and it's plain to see that those four releases alone will go far in matching the industry's $162 million haul from the same frame a year ago. But it's also generally true that a flood of business for one or more big releases tends to raise all theatrical boats.

So it's a foregone conclusion that the weekend boxoffice will outpace its year-ago comparison — just as in seven of the eight previous sessions — as Hollywood marks a merry start to the holiday boxoffice season and Summit execs unwrap an early yuletide gift.

Set for about 3,400 playdates, "Twilight" cost Summit $37 million to produce after Paramount and Fox Atomic passed on the project. Execs at the fledgling indie — when they're not busy managing expectations on the scope of their "Twilight" good fortune — are pinching themselves.

Distribution topper Richie Fay said he also has been fielding a lot of phone calls.

"It's been fun," said Fay, a longtime exhibition exec tapped to oversee distribution when Summit was launched in 2006. "Exhibition has been really good to us so far. But now it's nice to be able to pay them back a bit and field those phone calls where people are asking for more prints."

Serving as a barometer of the "Twilight" windfall, Disney's 3-D film "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert" played to a similar, slightly younger audience and opened Feb. 1 with $31.1 million from just 683 playdates en route to a $65.3 million domestic total.

Advance ticket sales for "Twilight" have reached the rarefied "Hannah" level, with younger females and more than a few moms among those keenest to rush multiplexes this weekend. Hundreds of "Twilight" performances set for midnight tonight have sold out, and execs hope younger males will join in the frenzy during the weekend.

"The boys will show up if they want to be around girls this weekend," Fay quipped.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison top a youthful ensemble cast in the Catherine Hardwicke-helmed film, which is based on a best-seller by Stephenie Meyer.

"Bolt" features Cyrus among its voice cast, with John Travolta in the title role of a Hollywood canine deceived into believing that his superpowers are real. Disney registered strongly positive results for its 800-plus sneak previews of "Bolt" last weekend and will feature more than 900 3-D playdates among its 3,500-plus engagements this session.

As for the film's boxoffice prospects amid the rabid female fervor for "Twilight" and a likely big sophomore session for "Solace," suffice it to say that Disney execs appear frightened neither by vampires nor secret agents.

"There's enough audience separation to make them all click very well," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said.

Meanwhile, distributors know they get to follow up this weekend's multiplex mania with what amounts to a five-day frame during the following weekend, thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday. Said Viane, with obvious relish, "We're going to have an outrageously good Thanksgiving."

Exhibitors have been smarting a bit from Warner Bros.' decision to move "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" from November to July. But with the year-to-date boxoffice now tracking just ahead of the same portion of last year according to Nielsen EDI data, there are signs that theater operators soon may turn their frowns upside down.

"The pipeline continues to be filled with good film product," AMC Theatres spokesman Andy DiOrio said.