'Shrek' poised to top boxoffice for third time

"Shrek," "Marmaduke," "Killers," "Get Him to the Greek" and "Splice"

VIDEO: 'Marmaduke,' 'Killers,' 'Greek' and Splice' open wide

The big green guy wasn't much of a sprinter, but his marathon form looks sharp.

DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek Forever After," a 3D four-quel in the lovable-ogre franchise, is expected to three-peat atop the domestic boxoffice with $25 million-$30 million. The PG-rated film underperformed expectations with a $70 million bow two sessions ago but held strong during its holiday-stretched sophomore session and faces relatively light competition this frame despite four wide openers.

Fox unleashes the family comedy "Marmaduke," Lionsgate looses the action comedy "Killers," and Universal debuts the R-rated comedy "Get Him to the Greek"; each is likely to be held to the teen millions through Sunday. Also today, Warner Bros. unspools the sci-fi thriller "Splice" with weekend prospects of $8 million-$10 million.

"Shrek Forever" might hurt "Marmaduke," a live-action romp based on the titular comic-strip canine. Execs had expected more urgent prerelease interest, but tracking data on family pics often runs a bit light, and a late surge of enthusiasm is possible.

As one industyite recently observed, "I learned long ago not to bet against any dog movie."
Tom Dey ("Failure to Launch") directed "Marmaduke," which co-stars Lee Pace ("When in Rome") and Judy Greer ("Barry Munday"), with Owen Wilson voicing Marmaduke, one of several talking pets in the pic.

"Killers" topliners Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl figure prominently in well-received TV spots for the PG-13 pic, which was directed by Robert Luketic ("The Ugly Truth"). But the distributor's refusal to screen the film for critics quickly slayed any expectations of a leggy run built on positive word-of-mouth.

The reverse could be true with Universal's raunchy comedy "Greek," which has impressed in early screenings yet failed to muster much love from those surveyed in prelease polls.

British actor and comedian Russell Brand toplines, with Jonah Hill ("Funny People") and Sean Combs among co-stars. Nick Stoller, who directed Brand in the same rock star role in 2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," helmed "Greek," with Judd Apatow among the producers.

"Splice" was an inexpensive pickup by genre vet Joel Silver, with Warners on board just to distribute. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley ("Mr. Nobody") star, and Vincenzo Natali ("Nothing") directed.

Ultimately, the theatrical run of "Shrek Forever" will be compared with green stuff accumulated by the franchise original and the first two sequels, all of which opened in May. "Shrek" rang up $267.7 million domestically in 2001; "Shrek 2" registered $441.2 million in 2004, the biggest gross for any animated film and the fifth-biggest overall; and "Shrek the Third" (2007) fetched $322.7 million, including an toon-record $121.6 million opening weekend.

DWA has marketed "Shrek Forever" as the "final chapter" in the film series, and execs insist that means there will be no further sequels. A "Puss in Boots" spinoff featuring the franchise's sword-wielding feline is set to unspool next year.

Industrywide, this weekend will be compared with a $166 million frame from last year that was topped by a $45 million bow by Warners' "The Hangover," which went on to become the biggest R-rated comedy of all time. Year to date, the domestic boxoffice is outpacing 2009 by 5%, at $4.3 billion.