'Torino': Go ahead, make my payday

Expanding Eastwood drama should have the firepower to make 'Bride' a bridesmaid

It's not a completely open road to boxoffice glory, but Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" holds the pole position this weekend as Warner Bros. expands the urban drama into more than 2,800 theaters.

"Torino" was parked in just 84 venues last weekend, its fourth frame in limited release. With about $10 million already in the tank, the Eastwood-helmed and -toplined film could pump another $20 million into its cume this session and top the domestic boxoffice in the process.

The platform campaign is in keeping with the studio's established pattern of catering to the older moviegoers who tend to support Eastwood's films. But in relative terms, the "Torino" rollout has been easier on the gas pedal than some of the filmmaker's previous releases. For instance, Warners broadened 2003's "Mystic River" wide after a single session in limited release, and Universal was similarly quick to expand "Changeling" last year.

"Clint and I spent a lot of time talking about 'Gran Torino,' (and) we thought this was a film that was going to be well-received not only critically but through word-of-mouth," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "We thought the best plan in a crowded marketplace during the holidays was to let it go out more quietly and then build into a wide release."

The strategy seems to be working: "Torino" has grossed more than any previous film released in fewer than 100 theaters. Also notably, audiences have grown younger during the four-week span that the film has toured the marketplace.

"The best advice for this and other similar films is not to get caught speeding," the distribution veteran said.

Elsewhere this weekend, wide openers include Fox's PG-13 romantic comedy "Bride Wars," starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.

"These are the two hot female stars of this generation," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said. "So I expect that young people will flock to it."

Women of all ages have displayed strong interest in prerelease tracking surveys, with younger females particularly fervid.

A dark horse for top honors this weekend, one never should count out any January pic with "Bride" in the title. Previous wedding-themed successes include last year's "27 Dresses" — a $23 million opener and $77 million grosser — and January 2001's "The Wedding Planner," which debuted with $13.5 million en route to registering more than $60 million domestically.

Tracking suggests that "Bride" will bow at least in the midteen millions.

Also this weekend, Universal delivers "The Unborn," a supernatural thriller starring Gary Oldman and Odette Yustman, while Sony unspools the faith-themed drama "Not Easily Broken," starring Morris Chestnut. Both might struggle to rise above the single-digit millions, but Uni execs believe "Unborn" has a shot at poking into the double-digit range. (partialdiff)