Expanded 'Clayton' takes 'Night' to court for top spot


Even the Amazing Kreskin would be loath to predict the outcome of a weekend like this one.

Three films are opening in wide release and another in moderate release, but it's an expanding release that is poised to take the top spot at the domestic boxoffice this weekend.

The George Clooney starrer "Michael Clayton" appears to be the favorite to land at the top of the domestic heap. Still, it will be a true coup if Warner Bros. can overcome such a crush of competition and claim the boxoffice flag with its platforming legal thriller.

"Clayton" grossed $855,340 from 15 theaters during last weekend's four-day holiday session, which included Monday's Columbus Day in the U.S. and Thanksgiving in Canada. Amounting to a mind-bending $57,022 per-screen average, the performance bodes well for the film's expansion into 2,400 locations Friday.

Older males are a key demo for "Clayton," which co-stars Tom Wilkinson and began buzz-building limited runs two weeks ago.

"I'm hoping the plan we launched Oct. 5 translates into a commercial success this weekend," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "We have a very solid shot at (winning) the weekend, but it's certainly going to be a close race. I expect to be there at the finish line, but it's all up to the movie gods now."

Indeed, with Sony's "We Own the Night," starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, numbering among the weekend's rival openers, a photo finish could be in the offing. Set for 2,000 playdates, the R-rated cop thriller will compete for male moviegoers with "Clayton," with both films expect to reach at least the teen millions.

"We have a very solid adult drama that women and men both will really like, though it will probably skew a bit more male," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "With that type of cast, you expect to deliver a good performance, (and) there is absolutely an audience that understands that."

Elsewhere, Universal/Working Title's period sequel "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," a PG-13 sequel to 1998's "Elizabeth," is tracking solidly, especially with older women, and first-choice interest overall is strong in prerelease surveys.

But as a period sequel, there's precious little historical evidence of how this "Elizabeth" might fare, and the original Cate Blanchett starrer platformed from limited runs to its eventual $30 million domestic haul. Certainly, Universal will be looking to make it into the double-digit millions.

Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?" a PG-13 laugher from Lionsgate, is tracking decently, but it remains to be seen how broadly the film will play.

Urban legend Perry's last film -- February's "Daddy's Little Girls" -- underperformed expectations with a $10.8 million opening weekend after bowing on a Valentine's Wednesday. Accumulating $31.2 million during its domestic run, consensus handicapping had Perry's absence from his usual starring role hurting the film's playability.

Perry is back front and center in "Married," and interest in the film is running high among prospective urban patrons. So something at least in the double-digit millions seems doable.

Yari Film Group has more modest expectations for its high school baseball film "The Final Season." Unspooling in about 1,000 locations, "Season" seeks to draft off of current interest in postseason baseball play, but game telecasts could prove tough competition -- for more than just the Sean Astin starrer.

Industryites also will be looking for evidence of a market rebound this weekend after recent dips in year-over-year comparisons.

" 'Michael Clayton' is the clear favorite, but the big question is whether the boxoffice slump we saw last weekend will extend to this weekend," said David Davis, an entertainment analyst with investment-research firm FMV Opinions. "If the slump from last weekend becomes a trend, it would put downward pressure on all the films in the marketplace a la a typical October swoon."