'Horton' ready for a rampage


LAS VEGAS -- "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" will be big. The only question is how big.

Fox has lined up almost 4,000 playdates, and most industry officials expect the CGI-animated family film to ring up $40 million or more. Some are talking about an opening north of $50 million for "Horton," featuring a voice cast of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen and Carol Burnett.

"This is one of the best animated pictures ever," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said. "I think it will be playing throughout the spring period."

Serving as points of comparison, Universal debuted "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" and "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat" in November 2000 and November 2003, respectively, with $55.1 million and $38.3 million. Whether a March bow can muster the boxoffice muscle of a holiday release remains to be seen.

The huge theater count was something of a gimme for Fox, as even small-town exhibs line up early to book big family films like the Seuss comedy. And there's little likely overlap with this weekend's other wide openers for "Horton," though Disney's G-rated comedy "College Road Trip" enters its sophomore session and will compete -- limply -- for some of the same prospective family patrons as the Fox debutant.

"Road Trip" bowed with $13.6 million last weekend, finishing No. 2 to Warner Bros.' prehistoric adventure "10,000 BC," which grossed $35.9 million. So a 50% hold would see the Martin Lawrence starrer fetch less than $7 million this frame, and a similar hold would leave "10,000 BC" with about $18 million.

That should be enough to land the Warners film in this weekend's silver-medal position. The action thriller "Doomsday" -- produced by Universal's Rogue genre unit -- would do well to reach double-digit millions. And Summit Entertainment's mixed martial arts release "Never Back Down" likely will fall just short of that range.

Rogue produced "Doomsday" for an estimated $19 million and has 1,936 playdates all ready, with Universal distributing the film in the U.S. and Alliance handling Canada. Playing to a possible overlap in audiences, Universal will unveil the trailer for its June 13 tentpole "The Incredible Hulk" in "Doomsday" venues.

Directed by Neil Marshall and rated R, "Doomsday" centers on a country torn apart by a brutal government quarantine over a killer virus. It stars Bob Hoskins and Rhona Mitra.

Rated PG-13 and targeting the high school and college crowd, "Down" -- bowing in 2,729 theaters -- will look for support from students on spring break.

"We have a film that plays well for audiences and is designed to not only tap into one of the nation's hottest trends -- mixed martial arts -- but also offers something more in the way of story and relationships that unfold during the film," Summit distribution president Richie Fay said.

A drama based on a fight competition, "Down" represents Summit's first release of a Summit-produced film. Produced for an estimated $20 million-plus, company insiders suggest an opening in the high single digits would see the project safely on the way to profitability.

Among several limited releases hitting the market this weekend, Warner Independent unspools "Funny Games" in 289 locations.

Meanwhile, industry figures hope "Horton" makes a big enough splash at the boxoffice to raise all theatrical boats.

There have been five straight weekends in which the domestic boxoffice has failed to match industry grosses from the same frame in 2007. However, 2008 remains 4% ahead of last year on a year-to-date basis.