'Nativity' leads 3 wide openers


The frame after the Thanksgiving weekend is typically a dismal one at the boxoffice. With holiday shopping on the minds of most moviegoers, the studios typically opt to release few new films. But this year will be an exception, with three studios set to bow wide releases today even though it's unlikely anything other than New Line Cinema's "The Nativity Story" will have much of an impact.

As a result, the weekend's take will prove something of a test as to whether the barrage of wide releases arriving through the end of the year and into 2007 is good for the boxoffice or whether it will just contribute to the moviegoer fatigue that many distributors worry about.

Warner Bros. Pictures' "Happy Feet" and Sony Pictures' "Casino Royale" are likely to dominate the weekend as they have for the past two frames, though industry insiders expect the films to drop at least 50% in their third week.

New Line will open the G-rated "Nativity" in 3,083 theaters. After an aggressive church-targeted campaign, New Line is hoping the faithful will come out in droves for the film. It's unclear how the story of the birth of Jesus will play at the boxoffice; because the marketing is primarily attracting churchgoers who aren't frequent moviegoers, their intent to go to the movies is not easily trackable. That said, the percentage of group sales through church organizations is not looking nearly as significant as it was for the boxoffice bonanza that was "The Passion of the Christ."

Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes ("Whale Rider") as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph, "Nativity" was directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("thirteen," "Lords of Dogtown"). Industry insiders put its opening in the $12 million-$15 million range, but if the Christian audience is sparked by the biblical themes, it could be as high as $18 million.

Fox Atomic's first feature, "Turistas" from director John Stockwell, bows today. The R-rated horror film stars Josh Duhamel, Melissa George and Olivia Wilde as tourists marooned in a remote Brazilian jungle. The film will bow in a limited wide release in 1,570 theaters and is not expected to do much business. Early reviews have not been kind, and industry insiders are putting the opening take in the $5 million range.

MGM is hoping to better the modest success of Artisan's "Van Wilder," which grossed $21 million in 2002, with the sequel "Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj." The company opens the film from Bauer Martinez, which doesn't feature either of the original's stars, Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid. This time around, all hope is with Kal Penn, whose character, Taj, is the focus of the new movie. The R-rated comedy, directed by Mort Nathan, hasn't been screened for critics and looks like it will be dead on arrival at the boxoffice. It will be a feat if it reaches the $5 million mark in its opening frame. The film will bow in 1,979 theaters.

In limited release, indie ThinkFilm bows the Morgan Freeman starrer "10 Items or Less." Financed by Intel and Freeman's production company Revelations Entertainment, the R-rated "Items" features Freeman as an aged actor who meets a quirky grocery store clerk (Paz Vega) while researching a role. Directed by Brad Silberling ("Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), "Items" will bow on ClickStar's broadband digital network two weeks after it opens in theaters. The film opens today in two markets.

MGM opens its recent acquisition "Two Weeks" in one theater in New York. The indie drama stars Sally Field as the dying matriarch of a family that comes together for one last visit with her. The film received early accolades at the Hamptons Film Festival.