Oscar frame tough on openers


Ironically, you would have to look long and hard to find a true breakout movie success opening during the weekend of the Academy Awards.

That has been especially true since Oscar moved up his big day one month to February. Valentine's and Presidents Day holidays attract some notable films, but the month's other sessions are used largely as outlets for more mundane boxoffice fare.

During Academy Awards weekend, there's also an understanding that interest in the Oscar telecast among prospective moviegoers will weaken Sunday grosses just a bit. So why send out your biggest films under less than ideal conditions?

On the other hand, there has been a creeping trend toward 12-month releasing. Summer now kicks off the first weekend of May, and even once-shunned Labor Day suddenly has become horror-film heaven. A recent surplus in wide releases throughout the year has added fuel to the year-round fire, so now historically less lucrative frames increasingly are attracting inordinate attention from product-laden distributors.

Against that backdrop, it's less surprising that this weekend boasts no fewer than four wide openers (three of which might struggle to gross more than single-digit millions): "Vantage Point," "Be Kind Rewind," "Witless Protection" and "Charlie Bartlett."

Sony could see as much as $20 million for its heavily marketed Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox and Forest Whitaker starrer "Vantage Point," with its roughly 3,000 playdates representing more than twice the runs of any other opener this session. Directed by theatrical newbie Pete Travis, the action-thriller should easily top the domestic boxoffice.

Holds of 50% each for last weekend's top three films would see Fox's "Jumper" do $16 million, Paramount's "The Spiderwick Chronicles" gross $12 million and Disney's "Step Up 2 the Streets" ring up $11 million during their respective sophomore sessions. That could nail down this weekend's second through fourth positions, with New Line's Jack Black comedy "Be Kind Rewind" potentially competing for fifth place despite bowing in just 808 locations.

Directed by Michel Gondry and co-starring Mos Def, "Rewind" should skew younger than another PG-13 opener, Lionsgate's Larry the Cable Guy comedy "Witless Protection." "Witless" targets older males and might be limited to about $5 million for the weekend.

Its performance will be measured against two previous films by its topliner. "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector" opened in March 2006 with $6.9 million, and "Delta Farce" unspooled in June with $3.4 million.

Also this weekend, MGM debuts the Robert Downey Jr. comedy "Charlie Bartlett," targeting a similar three-day gross as "Witless" but from a distinctly different audience. Rated R and produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, "Bartlett" will key on younger female interest.

Meanwhile, industry figures hope to get back in the win column this weekend by collecting more than the $116.7 million rung up during the same frame last year, when the New Line thriller "The Number 23" was the top opener in a weak field with $14.6 million.

Last weekend was off 11% from the same frame year ago, according to Nielsen EDI data. That was the second consecutive down session after seven straight year-over-year upticks.

Year-to-date, 2008 is ahead 13% compared with last year, with $1.29 billion in industry grosses, EDI said.