No wide openers as 'Avatar' eyes repeat

Prestige films look to maintain traction through weekend

Talk about going out with a whimper.

No film opens wide this weekend, the final frame of boxoffice year 2009. But most of the big new releases from last weekend -- which turned out to be a record session -- are likely to ring up impressive sums this frame.

Also this weekend, several prestige pics will attempt to maintain good market traction as they platform into ever-broader distribution amid the kudo-season publicity. Paramount intends to hold tight with current playdates on George Clooney starrer "Up in the Air" and expand beyond 2,000 on Jan. 8.

Par exec vp distribution Don Harris observes that the theatrical campaign for "Air" amounts to "a marathon, not a sprint." The dramedy attracted six Golden Globe nominations, and multiple wins when Globes are handed out on Jan. 17 surely could secure the well-reviewed film an even bigger rollout.

Other recent marketplace entrants in the specialty segment include Fox Searchlight's Jeff Bridges starrer "Crazy Heart" -- which played in only 12 theaters last weekend and totes a $361,000 cume -- and the Weinstein Co.'s musical "Nine," a $7 million grosser to date that likely will tread water for a while in about 1,400 locations.

The No. 1 pic this weekend is likely to be James Cameron's "Avatar." That would give the Fox-distributed sci-fi actioner a three-peat win atop the domestic rankings.

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A well-reviewed 3D epic, "Avatar" dropped a teensy 2% last weekend from its opening tally in the prior session, and its midweek grosses since Christmas weekend have been stellar. Its cume will soar well beyond $250 million by New Year's Day.

Warner Bros.' Robert Downey Jr. starrer "Sherlock Holmes" and Fox's family comedy "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" will battle it out for the silver and bronze positions in their respective sophomore sessions. "Sherlock" should stalk well beyond $100 million by the weekend, and the 'munks should be squirreling away a similar sum.

On an industrywide basis, the weekend represents a bonus frame for Hollywood. The boxoffice year began Jan. 5 and will feature one extra weekend than last year, due to fluctuations in the boxoffice calendar.

Nielsen EDI starts its boxoffice year on the first business day after New Year's weekend. That means boxoffice year 2010 begins Monday.