'Third' time's a harm for rivals

Latest 'Shrek' adventure ready to usurp throne from 'Spidey 3'

Paramount's "Shrek the Third" will have the boxoffice swamp pretty much to itself this weekend as the lucrative franchise from DreamWorks Animation will be the lone wide release in North America.

The familiar voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas again will be paired with the memorable characters that began their CG-animated journey in Far Far Away two sequels ago. Justin Timberlake joins the group this time, voicing Artie, a long-lost cousin of Princess Fiona. Chris Miller marks his directorial feature debut with the ongoing adventures of the not-so-jolly green ogre with a heart of gold.

For this adventure, with the king gravely ill, Shrek must find the rightful heir to the throne or he will have to take over himself. Not surprisingly, this is not to Shrek's liking, as he doesn't want to give up his beloved swamp for the throne. So Shrek sets off to locate the proper heir and finds one in the rebellious Artie, whom Shrek and his cohorts must change from miscreant to future king. Meanwhile, back at the palace, Prince Charming is attempting to take the throne by force with the help of some fairy tale villains.

Carrying a family-friendly PG rating, "Shrek" will be in 4,122 theaters and shouldn't have a problem fitting in the maximum number of runs per day with a running time of about 90 minutes. The film got a head start on the weekend with Thursday previews that began at about 10 p.m. in a few hundred theaters. Most industry observers conservatively estimate that "Shrek" should gross in the $90 million-$100 million area, with the potential to go higher.

When "Shrek 2" arrived on the silver screen in 2004, it grossed a stout $108 million — marking the biggest animated film opening in boxoffice history. It remains the only animated film to crack the $100 million level during its opening weekend and is the highest-grossing animated film of all time with $436.7 million. The original "Shrek" opened to $42.3 million in 2001 and topped out at $267.6 million.

Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3," which still is generating significant cash flow, will be the only real competition for the green ogre and his friends this weekend. Because "Spidey 3" and "Shrek" share some of the same audience demographic, the webslinger might have more of an impact on Shrek's opening than Warner Bros. Pictures' "Troy" had when "Shrek 2" debuted. "Troy" was rated R and appealed to an older demo. "Spidey 3" grossed about $3 million on Thursday, bringing its 14-day cume to about $254 million.

The marketplace should have no problem expanding to accommodate the two films, which will be playing in more than 4,000 theaters each, and the boxoffice as a whole will most likely be in the vicinity of last year's comparable frame. Sony's "The Da Vinci Code" debuted with a stout $77.1 million, followed in the second spot by the opening of Paramount's "Over the Hedge" with $38.5 million. The total boxoffice for all films that weekend was $163.2 million.

Several films are bowing in limited release. The release with the highest profile among the group is ThinkFilm's "The Wendell Baker Story," which will be in 17 venues.

Fox Searchlight's "Once," an R-rated modern-day musical drama, opened Wednesday in two locations. John Carney wrote and directed the film, which picked up the best dramatic film prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Magnolia's "Fay Grim," an R-rated action-suspense film from screenwriter-director Hal Hartley, opens in 27 venues. Parker Posey, Thomas Jay Ryan and Jeff Goldblum star in the sequel to "Henry Fool."