'Horton' walking on eggshells

'Browns,' 'Drillbit,' 'Shutter' join the hunt with holdovers

Easter isn't so much a huge boxoffice weekend as it is one that typically requires careful slotting to get moviegoers hopping to local multiplexes.

With lots of kids off from school today for Good Friday — not to mention those enjoying spring break respites from classrooms — Fox's animated comedy "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" could top the domestic boxoffice again. A 50% hold should be easily doable under the circumstances and reap more than $22 million, though it could take a bit more than that to beat the Lionsgate comedy "Meet the Browns."

Set for more than 2,000 theaters, Tyler Perry's "Browns" is the latest in a recent series of Easter openers aimed at attracting a substantial black audience. Last April, it was Ice Cube's comedy "Are We Done Yet?" mounting a $14.3 million opening, and the previous Easter saw the Wayans brothers' "Scary Movie 4" debut to $40.2 million.

"Based on the tracking, it certainly seems Tyler's fans are ready to come out in big numbers this weekend," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.

Perry's previous film — October's "Why Did I Get Married?" — bowed to $21.3 million en route to a total domestic haul of $55.2 million. His most successful opening came with February 2006's "Madea's Family Reunion," which grossed $30 million during its first frame and $63.2 million overall.

"Browns" is the first Perry film since "Madea" to be based on a well-known play from the playwright-turned-filmmaker. But the popular Madea character figures in just five minutes of "Browns," and that could keep the latest Perry release from opening at a new high.

Meanwhile, other wide openers this weekend include Paramount's Owen Wilson comedy "Drillbit Taylor" and Fox's remake of a 2004 Thai horror hit, "Shutter."

"Drillbit," set for more than 3,000 locations, could hit the low-teen millions. But "Shutter," though getting a similar number of runs, might stutter beyond the single-digit millions if tracking data proves accurate.

"Drillbit" is rated PG-13, and interest in the film is keenest among boys ages 7-15, with males in the 15-25 range also solidly on board. "Horton" appeal overlaps with those demos a bit, but little else should compete directly with Paramount's film about three kids' harrowing first day of high school.

The PG-13 "Shutter" is doing best with younger females in tracking. Fox is distributing the New Regency production.

The weekend's limited releases include "Under the Same Moon," a Spanish-language drama from Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co. starring America Ferrera (ABC's "Ugly Betty"). "Moon" bowed at 266 playdates in 32 markets Wednesday and will add additional engagements April 11.

Last weekend saw the collective domestic boxoffice break a recent string of poor comparisons with year-ago sessions. This frame, the comparison is with a non-Easter session from 2007 in which Warner Bros.' animated feature "TMNT" topped a field of six wide openers with $24.3 million and the industry boxoffice totaled $135.4 million.

Last weekend's $120.4 million in total boxoffice represented a 3% uptick compared with the same frame a year ago. Year-to-date, 2008 is about 2% ahead of the same portion of last year at $1.84 billion.