'Watchmen' looking at big opening

R-rated film opening in record 3,611 theaters

Warner Bros. execs have been predicting for weeks that "Watchmen" will be huge at the boxoffice this weekend.

Don't expect them to be proved wrong.

Co-produced by Warners and Legendary Pictures, "Watchmen" will also have execs at Fox rooting for its success. The studio is in line to receive up to 8.5% of the pic's eventual worldwide gross following a settlement of a legal squabble between Warners and Fox of the film's release rights. Paramount has foreign rights to the pic.

No studio has dared schedule a wide release to open opposite the gritty superheroes actioner, whose two-hour, 40-minute running time could hamper daily grosses a bit but likely won't keep "Watchmen" from ringing up $60 million or more through Sunday. Similarly, early reviews have been mixed, but that won't matter much to fans of the 1980s comics series -- by writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons -- on which the film is based.

"Watchmen" stars Malin Akerman ("27 Dresses") and Bill Crudup ("The Good Shepherd") and was directed by Zack Snyder, helmer of blockbuster "300." Some question whether it can match the $71 million rung up by "300" during its opening weekend in March 2007, but Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said he welcomes the challenge.

"It gives you something to shoot for," Fellman said.

"300" registered $28 million over just its first day, offering yet another target for "Watchmen" to aim for. Helpfully, Warners has secured a whopping 3,611 engagements for the release in the highest theater count ever for a R-rated film.

Fandango said advance ticket sales were outpacing those for "300" amid reports of broad sellouts for hundreds of midnight shows "Watchmen." "Watchmen" will play in 124 Imax venues, with outsized grosses expected from the giant-screen auditoriums.

"This is a movie whose DNA is a direct hit with the Imax audience of techies who have supported us over the past few years," Imax Film Entertainment president Greg Foster said.

Fandango polled 1,000 moviegoers planning to view the film this weekend, and 57% said they would be attending with a group of friends. Some 85% had seen "300," with 73% of those surveyed male and 65% ages 18 to 34.

Elsewhere this weekend, Disney execs will hope to sustain first-week traction with young fans of the Jonas Brothers pop group, whose "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience" unspooled with a less-than-expected $12.5 million last session.

Fox Searchlight will try to sustain a post-Oscars bounce by India-set drama "Slumdog Millionaire," which rung up an impressive $12 million over its 16th weekend in release to push cume to $115 million. "Slumdog" looks like it stands a good shot at grabbing the silver medal this weekend after posting notably strong midweek grosses.

Focus Features' "Milk" will also try to milk post-Oscar grosses following a decent session for the biopic, which boasts a $30 million cume through 14 weeks.

Meantime, Hollywood will be striving for another big uptick in year-over-year comparisons of industry grosses for the frame. Nielsen EDI data show increases in weekend tallies in seven of the eight frames marked thus far this boxoffice year.