The tweens shall meet

Sellouts await 3-D 'Hannah'

For many films, this weekend will play like a two-day frame because of Sunday's Super Bowl — which could carry a little gal named Hannah Montana to boxoffice glory.

Disney's "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert" goes out in 3-D projection in 683 domestic locations beginning today. That's just a fraction of the playdates of most other wide openers, but the screen count hardly tells the story of the studio's extra-dimensional hopes for "Hannah."

Indeed, "Hannah" — Montana is the performer's TV show persona, Cyrus her real name — has a few things going for it that could help the concert film sing its way to No. 1 this weekend.

For starters, 3-D releases support higher ticket prices, and in "Hannah's" case, exhibitors are expected to charge up to $15 per admission. That's a particularly pricey ducat, considering that most ticketbuyers will be tweens and younger who normally would get a break from the adult-ticket price.

Then there is the enormous built-in fan base from Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana" series — a fan base that's hardly counting the moments to the Super Bowl kickoff.

"This is a picture that could have a good Sunday," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said with a telling grin.

As for its low screen count, blame the slow rollout of 3-D projection systems.

"Hannah" is being released only in digital projection, meaning that Imax's 3-D screens are unavailable for the movie. So Viane rounded up pretty much any other 3-D venue in existence, scheduling five showtimes daily for the 80-minute "Hannah."

"In the digital world — not counting theaters that would be competing against each other — we're basically everywhere we can be," he said.

Concert films will be regular programming for 3-D venues, but the rollout of such screens has gone slowly despite solid exhibitor interest. That's largely because the screens must first be equipped for digital projection, a more arduous and costly undertaking compared to the relatively simple addition of 3-D capability.

National Geographic Cinema recently bowed its concert film "U2 3D" in 60 Imax venues, with plans to expand to a few hundred digital 3-D venues Feb. 15. Many of the Imax venues will keep playing the film for months, though some venues alternate the U2 film with other Imax features in the same auditorium daily.

Summit Entertainment originally set its 3-D feature "Fly Me to the Moon" for Feb. 15 as well, but the distributor recently moved it to Aug. 22 in the hope that more 3-D venues will be available by summer. Estimates project at least 1,200 digital 3-D venues to come into service by then.

Viane wouldn't speculate on opening "Hannah" grosses, but double-digit millions are a certainty. Many see the film soaring past $20 million through Sunday, which would mean a mind-bending per-screen average of $30,000.

"I'm really optimistic," Viane said. "The kids are all talking about it. My granddaughter is talking about it. So I'm really happy to see how 683 screens can do, competing against the world."

By midweek, online ticketer Fandango said "Hannah" was accounting for a whopping 91% of all its ticket sales, with hundreds of venues selling out.

Other wide openers this weekend include Lionsgate's Jessica Alba horror film "The Eye," a Paramount Vantage co-production set for 2,436 engagements. The PG-13 film will skew heavily female but targets an older audience than "Hannah."

"Our primary target audience (is) women under 25, and we think we have a good shot at getting them to come out this weekend as good counterprogramming against the Super Bowl," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.

Industry executives figure the film should gross in the low-teen millions.

The PG-13 comedy "Over Her Dead Body" — a Gold Circle production distributed by New Line — unspools in 1,977 theaters, but the film might struggle to do more than the single-digit millions. Ditto for Paramount Classics' R-rated laugher "Strange Wilderness," a Steve Zahn starrer set for about 1,200 playdates.

Elsewhere, all five best picture Oscar nominees continue in wide release. Awards season publicity and other film promotions should help fuel at least decent sessions for Miramax/Paramount Vantage's "No Country for Old Men," Par Vantage/Miramax's "There Will Be Blood," Fox Searchlight's "Juno," Focus/Working Title's "Atonement" and Warner Bros.' "Michael Clayton."