Hollywood studios turn hopeful eye toward holiday

Tue Nov 25, 2008 7:59am EST

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in a scene from Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy ''Four Christmases''. REUTERS/Handout

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in a scene from Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy ''Four Christmases''.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - One or more of Wednesday's three wide-release movies might turn out to be a box-office turkey, but film distributors see the long Thanksgiving session as a lucrative opportunity for new films and holdovers alike.

The main debutantes during the holiday frame:

* Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy "Four Christmases" features Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. The stars' established audience appeal offers a sturdy base of support, and prerelease tracking surveys show sufficiently broad interest to make "Christmases" a frontrunner among the new releases.

* Lionsgate's Jason Statham-starring "Transporter 3" has Frenchman Olivier Megaton directing for producers Luc Besson and Steven Chasman. Young males appear a dependable fan base for the action franchise, so the sequel should start particularly well and hunker down in second place among the new releases during the five-day span.

* Fox's Baz Luhrmann-helmed "Australia" stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in an action adventure of epic sweep and 165-minute running time. The film -- whose $130 million in production costs were cut to $78 million through Aussie tax rebates -- has drawn encouraging early reviews, and tracking indicates good interest among older moviegoers.

All wide openers carry PG-13 ratings.

'MILK' ON TAP

On Wednesday Focus Features will open Gus Van Sant's R-rated Harvey Milk biopic, "Milk," in 35 theaters in 21 markets.

A period political drama depicting events leading up to the assassination of San Francisco supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone, "Milk" has generated early awards-consideration buzz for Sean Penn's amiable performance in the title role. A notable ensemble cast also features James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna.

Meanwhile, Summit Entertainment's youth phenomenon "Twilight" and Disney's animated family comedy "Bolt" enter their sophomore sessions in wide release. James Bond film "Quantum of Solace," from Sony and MGM, should also play well during its third domestic frame.

"Twilight" will be scrutinized as to whether its big opening is followed by an equally sizable drop in interest, while "Bolt" will bear watching for signs of a leggy run to compensate for its wobbly opening.

Summit's vampire pic is likely to outgross "Christmases" over five days, but the Warners comedy could get the last laugh with a bigger Friday-through-Sunday tally. Nielsen EDI will rank pics according to their three-day performances.

It's a bit unclear how heavily "Twilight" will drop from its opening grosses. But if repeat business proves as robust as expected, its tumble could prove relatively modest.

"We're confident," Summit distribution chief Richie Fay said.

However the precise pecking order turns out, distributors know that the day before Thanksgiving and the holiday itself historically tend to register outsize daily grosses that make for an effective five-day frame.

"The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is always a very good day," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "And Thursday is good for family films."

Fox distribution boss Bruce Snyder said that "Australia" doesn't need a huge opening, just a solid one, to establish the film in the lucrative holiday marketplace.

"Pictures that work tend to hold beautifully through this time period," he noted.

In a quirk of the calendar, the weekend will be compared to a non-holiday year-earlier frame in which the industry registered a ho-hum $84 million.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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