This vet could mistreat the animal

'Rambo' battles 'Cloverfield' for supremacy in busy frame

There just might be blood.

The domestic boxoffice will feature a kind of midwinter mayhem this weekend, when strong holdover films are joined in a competitive fray by four wide debutants and Oscar-rejuvenated titles.

Paramount's monster film "Cloverfield" still holds considerable bite and should compete again for the top spot. But it will be interesting to see whether its second-weekend drop is bigger than 50%, a definite possibility amid the crush of film titles this frame.

Fox's sophomore session with the wedding-themed romantic comedy "27 Dresses," a boxoffice bridesmaid last weekend, should considerably add to its cume. Yet it remains to be seen whether any males will show up for the film in subsequent outings after its maiden voyage skewed a whopping 75% female.

Last weekend's No. 3 — Warner Bros.' Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman starrer "The Bucket List" — is showing surprisingly sturdy legs. So another strong session would really give its septuagenarian topliners grounds for thumbing their noses at critics who predicted a dismal run for the now- $45 million grosser.

Also this weekend, Miramax expands the Oscar magnet "No Country for Old Men" to 1,107 playdates.

Warners' George Clooney starrer "Michael Clayton" — another best picture nominee, along with holdovers "Juno" from Fox Searchlight, "There Will be Blood" from Paramount Vantage and "Atonement" from Focus — re-expands to about 1,000 engagements.

In the meantime, the hefty holdovers will be joined by a bevy of wide openers.

Lionsgate's "Rambo" — the first installment of the Sylvester Stallone action franchise in 20 years — is set for about 2,800 theaters, while Fox bows "Meet the Spartans," a spoof of last year's "300" that's playing in about 2,600 locations. Sony also unspools the serial-killer thriller "Untraceable" in about 2,300 sites, and Paramount Vantage trots out its urban step-dancing film "How She Move" in about 1,500 venues.

More than a couple of titles could get caught in the competitive frame.

"Rambo" will draw heavily among older males. If it plays more broadly — and young male interest looks hopeful — it could challenge "Cloverfield" for the weekend crown.

"A whole new generation of young males has been introduced to 'Rambo' due to the advertising and publicity," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.

"Spartans" might be limited to the low-teen millions and should skew to young males. A good weekend would see "Untraceable" reaching the double-digit millions on core female appeal, and "How She Move" likely can count on high-single-digit millions from its target urban audience, with a shot of making a surprising grab at a higher ranking in the weekend tallies if it crosses over into wider appeal.

Regardless of the final pecking order, industry figures hope the surfeit of wide players makes for another strong winter boxoffice weekend, maintaining this year's momentum and padding an early lead on year-over-year comparisons.

To date, 2008 is about 15% ahead of the same portion of last year, but some on Wall Street hold a dim view of the industry's theatrical prospects this year (HR 1/22).