George Clooney, the Mayor McCheese of Hollywood, leaves behind Oscar season and returns to the big screen with lighter fare with the period sports comedy Leatherheads. The PG-13 pic also stars Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski while the former Caped Crusader directs. Given the story of the origins of football in the 1920’s, turnout should come mostly from older adults although The Office star is being counted on to pull in some younger moviegoers. In Los Angeles, Clooney is a God. But the other 99% of the U.S. population doesn’t necessarily bow down to him (unless pals Brad and Matt are along for the ride). Michael Clayton, which creatively was one of the actor’s best films, only managed $10.4M in ticket sales during its first wide weekend. And it was backed by plenty of Oscar buzz and glowing reviews.

Reviews for Leatherheads have been lukewarm at best which spells bad news since the target audience will be reading up on the opinions of critics and taking their warnings. Plus Zellweger is no A-lister when it comes to drawing in paying audiences. Add in a period setting that will turn many off and you’ve got a spring film that will have to work hard for the money. To its credit, Universal has backed the title with a solid marketing push doing what it can to generate excitement and the current top five will not provide too much direct competition. But a lack of momentum in the current marketplace will also have a negative effect on all films. Rushing into 2,778 theaters, Leatherheads may take in around $15M this weekend.


John Krasinski in Leatherheads

A young girl’s imagination is at the heart of Nim’s Island, the new kid adventure from Fox Walden. Abigail Breslin stars as the title character in the PG-rated tale while Jodie Foster and 300‘s Gerard Butler co-star. The family audience is the target here with sales likely to skew more towards girls than boys. The lack of male appeal could turn out to be a major liability. Foster usually brings plenty of starpower with her, but this is not the type of role her core fans will be all that excited about. This isn’t a single-woman-fighting-male-oppressors movie. Competition will come from Fox’s own Horton Hears A Who, but Nim‘s trailers in front of the Seuss toon over the last three weeks have also raised awareness with the same crowd. So consider that a wash. Overall buzz is not too high so despite the very wide launch, potent numbers are not likely. Opening in 3,511 sites, Nim’s Island could debut to about $14M.


Abigail Breslin in Nim’s Island

Paramount gives horror fans a new offering with The Ruins which finds a group of young Americans in Cancun discovering terror. The year’s first fright flick to not be a remake of an Asian horror hit carries an R rating which will hurt its chances with younger teens. Overall interest is not very high and a lack of starpower won’t help its cause much. The film should appeal to the same folks who bought tickets to The Descent and Turistas. Both lacked star names and underperformed with openings of $8.9M and $3.6M respectively. The Ruins opens in over 2,500 theaters and should fall into the same range. Look for a $8M debut.


The Ruins

The Rolling Stones and Martin Scorsese join forces for the year’s third major concert film with Shine A Light. The PG-13 pic covers an intimate New York concert given by the supergroup with the Oscar-winning director orchestrating a team of A-list cinematographers to capture all the magic. Paramount Classics is rolling out the film in limited release with about 270 total theaters including 93 Imax sites making it the widest launch ever for the large-screen format. Marketing materials have been highlighting the starpower of all the popular senior citizens involved here in a effort to tap into older adults and rock music fans. Hannah Montana and U2 found success earlier this year with their concert pics and the higher-priced Imax tickets will help to beef up the averages. Shine A Light could rock to around $2M this weekend.


Scorsese and The Stones in Shine a Light

Only two holdovers will be able to post double-digit millions this weekend. 21 got off to a great start last week and will not see too much of its teen and young adult audience taken away since Leatherheads will skew older and Nim will play younger. Still a moderate 45% drop is in order which would put the blackjack drama at about $13M for a ten-day tally of $45M.

Fox’s animated blockbuster Horton Hears A Who will find its competition coming from the studio’s own new Jodie Foster adventure. But the Dr. Seuss comedy has been holding up well so a 30% fall to $12.5M could result. That would up the cume to a robust $134M.

Superhero Movie stumbled out of the gate last weekend and is not likely to have legs. A 45% drop would give The Weinstein Company roughly $5M and a sum of $17M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: With Easter falling on the first weekend of April, the box office was vibrant thanks to a pair of solid sophomores and a slate of new releases. Will Ferrell‘s skating comedy Blades of Glory spent a second frame on top with $22.5M while the Disney toon Meet the Robinsons held onto second with $16.7M. Leading the newcomers was the Ice Cube sequel Are We Done Yet? with $14.3M on its way to $49.7M for Sony. Opening in fourth was the two-for-one special Grindhouse with $11.6M followed by the new supernatural thriller The Reaping which bowed to $10M. Final grosses reached $25M and $25.1M, respectively. Failing to excite family audiences was Firehouse Dog which debuted in tenth with just $3.8M leading to a weak $13.9M final.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

The masses have spoken, and according to Meet the Spartans‘ grosses, they apparently want more spoof movies — something Bo Zenga is ready and willing to provide.

Variety reports that Zenga — who wrote Soul Plane, appeared as “EMT” in 1994’s Cagney & Lacey reunion movie, and acted as a producer on Scary Movie — has set up a new film, to be titled Stan Helsing, at Stone Village Pictures. Zenga will write and direct the project, which Variety sums up below:

Action takes place on Halloween night, when a videostore clerk, Stan Helsing, must reluctantly save a town from the six most-feared monsters in cinematic history.

Zenga, who most recently served as a producer of 2006’s Turistas, tells Variety:

“‘Stan Helsing’ spoofs the six biggest movie monster franchises of all time, which collectively have grossed over $1 billion worldwide. We expect to take a healthy bite of that number.”

Source: Variety

Only one new film ventures into wide release. Studios typically avoid opening worthwhile pics during the weekend after the Thanksgiving frame since moviegoing subsides and holiday shopping becomes a bigger national priority. Overall ticket sales tumble by 40-50% from the previous frame and holdovers usually lead the way. That means Disney’s princess tale Enchanted should continue to reign supreme at the North American box office, but those looking for a scare will have the new thriller Awake to see. After a robust turkey frame, look for the marketplace to settle down as movie fans nibble on leftovers.

What happens when Darth Vader marries the Invisible Woman? You get a horror film set in a hospital, of course. Awake stars Hayden Christensen as a man who undergoes surgery while remaining conscious and Jessica Alba plays the troubled wife. The R-rated psychological thriller from MGM and The Weinstein Co. will target young adults with a semi-intriguing premise and a dash of starpower.

Outside of the Star Wars prequels, young Anakin has no pull with ticket buyers but Alba has shown box office strength over the years and can often be a draw even when not suited up in Fantastic Four gear. As with so many of her previous films, trailers feature quick shots of her semi-nude body which should titillate male moviegoers. But overall excitement is not too high and the audience could be limited here with the eventual DVD release reaching the bulk of the film’s fans. Opening in about 2,000 theaters, Awake may gross around $6M this weekend.


Hayden Christensen, Terence Howard and Jessica Alba in Awake

A pair of film festival favorites with Oscar hopes will open in platform release this weekend. Fox Searchlight offers the estranged sibling comedy The Savages starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The R-rated film played earlier this year at Sundance, Telluride, and Toronto. Debuting in the same two Manhattan theaters is Miramax’s French drama The Diving Bell and the Butterfly about a magazine editor who after suffering a stroke, can only communicate with one eyelid. The PG-13 film scored the Best Director trophy at Cannes.


Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in The Savages

With only one new offering in wide play, look for the box office chart to look awfully familiar. Nine of the top ten titles will probably be the same as last week’s. Disney’s family hit Enchanted is set to retain its crown and stay the leader. A 50% drop could result, especially since Friday is not a day off this time around. That would give the fairy tale flick about $17M for the weekend and a solid 12-day cume of $70M.

Following its surprisingly strong premiere, the family reunion film This Christmas should fall sharply on the sophomore session. A 55% decline would leave Sony with $8M and an impressive total of $36M after a dozen days.

Young males targeted by Beowulf and Hitman will be distracted somewhat by another one-word-titled film making its debut. With Alba in that cast, it could lead to steep drops of 55% each. That would put Paramount’s 3D adventure toon at around $7.5M for the weekend for a sum of $68M. Hitman would slide down to $6M for Fox and a total of $30M.

LAST YEAR: For the third straight weekend, the penguin-Bond connection ruled the box office with ease. The animated blockbuster Happy Feet remained the number one film once again with $17.5M for Warner Bros. while Sony’s 007 pic Casino Royale took the silver with $15.1M. In the first 17 days of play, moviegoers spent an astounding $237M on the dynamic duo. Denzel Washington‘s action thriller Deja Vu stayed put in third place with $10.9M in its sophomore frame. Debuting in fourth was the religious drama The Nativity Story with $7.8M on its way to a $37.6M final for New Line. Rounding out the top five was Fox’s Christmas comedy Deck the Halls with $6.7M. Also debuting but to modest numbers were Fox’s horror pic Turistas with $3.6M and MGM’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj with $2.3M. Final grosses reached $7M and $4.3M, respectively.

Can Ben Stiller and his living artifacts four-peat at the top of the North American box office, or will one of the new releases take the crown over the four-day Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend? Ticket buyers will decide.

Leading the freshman class is the dance drama "Stomp the Yard" which could have breakout potential. Also opening are the fantasy pic "Arthur and the Invisibles," the drug dealer pic "Alpha Dog," and the horror flick "Primeval." With so many schools closed on Monday, the new films are targeting students of all ages who will have extra time on their hands.

The west and east coasts meet in "Stomp the Yard," a story of a Los Angeles student enrolled in an Atlanta university who uses his unique style to help his fraternity compete in a step dancing contest. The PG-13 film is short on starpower, but makes up for that with terrific marketing which is the real ingredient that will put asses into the seats. Sony has cut exciting trailers and commercial spots which should spark lots of interest with teens and young adults. Plus, MLK weekend is the perfect time to open a black college film since interest will be high for this particular subject matter. African American students will especially be out in solid numbers. However, the opening of Justin Timberlake‘s "Alpha Dog" could take away some of the young adult crowd.

"Stomp" should appeal to the same audiences that delivered bigger-than-expected openings for "Drumline" ($12.6M opening, $6,865 average), "ATL" ($11.6M, $7,212), and "You Got Served" ($16.1M, $8,341). The urban youth of America possesses tremendous spending power and Hollywood has just woken up to this in recent years financing low cost flicks that return handsome profits through theatrical and DVD sales. "Stomp" also offers an appealing story relevant to today’s young people and looks to join this list. Stepping into 2,051 theaters, "Stomp the Yard" could collect about $16M over four days this weekend.


An action shot from "Stomp the Yard."

The weekend’s only new kidpic comes in the form of the French production "Arthur and the Invisibles," a groundbreaking feature which mixes live-action with animation in a fantasy tale. The PG-rated film from The Weinstein Co. is directed by action professional Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element," "Joan of Arc") and features the voices of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Snoop Dogg, and Madonna. With so many young children across the country having a long school holiday, "Arthur" should get some play as the only new option for parents who have taken enough trips to the Museum. Of course "Happily N’Ever After" flopping last weekend shows that family audiences will not come out for just anything. With about 2,500 theaters, it is the widest of the new titles which could help it get into double digit millions over the extended frame. The marketing push has been admirable too. MLK weekend has often seen better-than-expected results for debuting kiddie flicks like "Kangaroo Jack," "Racing Stripes," and "Hoodwinked." "Arthur and the Invisibles" may carve out its share of the pie and gross roughly $11M over the four-day period.


Those troll dolls have found a new purpose in "Arthur and the Invisibles."

Pop music king Justin Timberlake joins an ensemble cast which includes Emile Hirsch, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis in the gritty drama "Alpha Dog." Directed by Nick Cassavetes, the R-rated film tells of a drug dealer who kidnaps the younger brother of a friend who owes a debt. The Universal release is based on true events and will target older teens and twentysomethings. The marketing makes the film look slick and cool plus JT provides a built-in audience of fans that can be tapped into.

However, two main obstacles are in the way – the rating and competition from "Stomp the Yard." A large portion of Timberlake’s fans are young teens and they will have a hard time buying tickets. Plus, "Stomp" will be distracting the urban youth with its slick look and milder PG-13 rating. On top of that, the studio’s release is not too wide. These factors should curtail the potential of "Alpha." Critics have given solid support which may help a little, although Time Out New York boldly calls the pic the worst movie of the year in its zero-star review. Opening in about 1,200 theaters, "Alpha Dog" might bite down on around $8M over the long weekend.


Timberlake gets down in "Alpha Dog."

Every horror film since Halloween has flopped and the streak looks to continue with "Primeval" from Buena Vista. The R-rated film about a news crew hunting down a killer boasts no starpower and lacks a compelling plot worthy of the ten-dollar bills of genre fans. Marketing support has been weak and awareness is not very high. The fright flick seems to have the same potential as last month’s "Turistas" which bowed to a weak $3.6M and $2,282 average. "Primeval" will open wider with about 2,000 theaters and has an extended four-day session so a gross of roughly $6M could result followed by steep drops.

Zhang Yimou has seen solid but not spectacular averages for his latest Chinese epic "Curse of the Golden Flower" which has already grossed $2.2M from its limited release in about 60 theaters. Its average of $6,104 last weekend will drop considerably as it expands nationwide into about 1,200 playdates. The Mandarin-language period piece seems to be going too wide too fast and with all the choices in the multiplexes, Sony Classics may find it difficult to get multiplex crowds into all those new seats. "Curse" will try to play to fans of the "Hero" director, but Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li are no Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi at the American box office. A $4M gross over the long weekend could result.


These horses must be suffering from "The Curse of the Golden Flower."

Ben Stiller and Will Smith have been inseparable blockbuster brothers atop the box office charts for the last three weeks. But the weekend’s new releases should finally cause a breakup. Stiller’s runaway smash "Night at the Museum" has been holding up incredibly well against any competition that has come its way and will attempt to become the first film since 2003’s "The Return of the King" to remain number one for four consecutive weekends. The only thing standing in its path is a possible teen explosion for "Stomp." "Museum’s" four-day holiday gross could slip 25% from last weekend’s three-day figure giving the Fox hit about $18M and a remarkable cume to date of $187M.

Smith has done pretty well for himself too with "The Pursuit of Happyness" which should see another solid turnout over MLK weekend. A 20% drop would give Sony a four-day tally of $10M boosting its total to a stellar $137M.

Since it opened nationally on Christmas Day, "Dreamgirls" has been posting the best per-theater averages of any wide release. Now, Paramount will more than double the run and expand the Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical from 852 to about 1,800 theaters. The Jamie FoxxBeyonce Knowles musical is the favorite to take home that honor, plus other statues, and the studio wants to make sure the product is available everywhere once the wins occur. Plus, films with African American casts routinely do very well over the King frame so a jump in sales is assured. For the four-day period, "Dreamgirls" may climb to around $11M putting the cume at $68M. If it wins the Globe for Best Picture and secures a sizable number of Oscar nominations the following week, the total domestic take could certainly surpass the $100M mark as it did for "Chicago" four years ago. The Richard Gere musical reached a similar $63.8M at the end of the weekend it went fully national into 1,841 locations and went on to a sensational $170.7M final total.

LAST YEAR: Disney kicked off the first of what would be many hit sports flicks in 2006 with the basketball drama "Glory Road" which opened at number one over MLK weekend with $16.9M over four days. The live action film barely beat out the animated comedy "Hoodwinked" which also grossed $16.9M over the Friday-to-Monday period, but was about $50,000 shy of the number one spot. The duo reached $42.6M and $51.2M, respectively. Third place also was held by a new release. Paramount’s Queen Latifah comedy "Last Holiday" bowed to a solid $15.5M on its way to $38.4M. Rounding out the top five were former number ones "The Chronicles of Narnia" with $12.8M and "Hostel" with $11.4M over the long weekend. Fox’s romance "Tristan & Isolde" found few lovers in its debut opening to $7.6M on its way to just $14.7M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Three new releases failed to make much of an impression on North American moviegoers this weekend as the top films at the box office remained the same.

The dynamic duo of the penguin toon "Happy Feet" and the James Bond actioner "Casino Royale" ranked one and two for the third straight time while Denzel Washington‘s action thriller "Deja Vu" found itself in the familiar third spot once again. Overall, the post-turkey blues set in with total ticket sales dropping significantly from last weekend.

The animated blockbuster "Happy Feet" became only the second film of 2006 to spend three consecutive weekends at number one. Warner Bros. held steady at the top with an estimated $17M over the weekend dropping an understandable 54% from the Thanksgiving holiday frame. After 17 days of release, the penguin hit has grossed a stellar $121M and seems on course to reach the $180-190M domestic range depending on how it holds up over the holidays. The year’s only other film to stay in first place for three weekends was Johnny Depp‘s "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" which also happens to be the top-grossing blockbuster of 2006.

In its usual runnerup spot was Agent 007 in "Casino Royale" which took in an estimated $15.1M in its third mission to boost the total to $115.9M. Off 51%, the Sony hit averaged $4,460 per theater which was virtually the same as Feet’s $4,481 average. "Casino" has been holding up better than the last James Bond flick "Die Another Day" which grossed less in its third weekend. The new Daniel Craig actioner opened with $40.8M and dropped 25% to $30.8M on Thanksgiving weekend. During the same weeks in 2002, "Die" bowed to a stronger $47.1M, but fell a larger 34% to $31M over the turkey frame, and then another 59% to $12.8M on the third session. "Casino" was running 7.2% behind "Die" after the first ten days but has now cut the margin down to only 3.6%. The new smash looks likely to edge out the previous installment’s $160.9M domestic tally. Worldwide, "Casino Royale" surged past the $300M mark in global ticket sales and continues to dominate the international box office.

The "Happy"-"Casino" combo has now grossed a stunning $236.9M putting it slightly ahead of the $229.3M that moviegoers spent a year ago on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" over the same time period. Factor in the usual 3% for annual ticket price increases and the dollar amount is almost identical. So far, the two hits have tag-teamed to help keep this year’s holiday box office relatively even with last year’s. However, December may struggle to keep up with its 2005 counterpart when movie fans spent a towering $400M on "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "King Kong." This month’s upcoming releases will all have to pitch in solid numbers for the marketplace in the final month of the year to keep up with last year.

Also not shifting its chart position this weekend was the Denzel Washington actioner "Deja Vu" which remained in third place with an estimated $11M. Dropping only 46%, the Buena Vista release watched its cume climb to $44.1M after 12 days. The time-shifting thriller may go on to capture $75-80M.

New Line’s Biblical drama "The Nativity Story" debuted in fourth place with an estimated $8M from a wide release in 3,183 theaters. Averaging only $2,521 per venue, the PG-rated film was expected to reach double digit millions given its 3,000-plus theater launch just weeks before Christmas. The flashier family blockbuster "Happy Feet" may have proven to be too strong of a competitor despite doing $104M in business before "Nativity" even opened.

The Christmas comedy "Deck the Halls" followed with an estimated $6.7M dropping 45% in its second weekend. Fox has stuffed $25M into its stocking after 12 days and could be headed for a mediocre $40-45M final. Another holiday comedy, "The Santa Clause 3," was right behind with an estimated $5M, off 50%, pushing the total for Disney to $73.2M. In seventh was the raunchy pic "Borat" which fell 53% to an estimated $4.8M giving Fox a stellar cume of $116.3M.

The horror pic "Turistas" bowed in eighth place with an estimated $3.5M from 1,570 locations for an average of just $2,255 per site. Fox’s R-rated thriller about American tourists attacked while on vacation in Brazil played to the expected audience of older teens and young adults.

Sony’s comedy "Stranger Than Fiction" followed with an estimated $3.4M, down 41%, for a cume to date of $36.9M. The Will Ferrell pic’s weekend take included grosses from the studio’s Saturday evening sneak previews of its upcoming Cameron DiazKate Winslet pic "The Holiday" which ran at 75% capacity nationwide. The romantic comedy officially opens on Friday against three other new wide openers.

Rounding out the top ten was the new college comedy "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" which opened with an estimated $2.3M from 1,979 theaters for an average of only $1,160. The MGM sequel performed much like a pair of recent R-rated comedies aimed at young males — "Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny" and "Let’s Go to Prison" — which debuted with just $3.2M and $2.2M respectively.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The DreamWorks animated film "Flushed Away" released by Paramount tumbled 61% to an estimated $2.3M in its fifth weekend and raised its total to $60.1M. Look for a $65M final.

MGM’s political drama "Bobby" fell a steep 59% in its second weekend of national play. The Emilio Estevez pic grossed an estimated $2M lifting the sum to only $9.2M and should end with a weak $12-14M. The Warner Bros. sci-fi romance "The Fountain" dropped 57% in its sophomore frame to an estimated $1.6M giving the studio a puny $8.1M in 12 days. A $11-12M final seems likely.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $76.9M which was up 5% from last year when "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" remained at number one with $19.9M; and up 2% from 2004 when "National Treasure" stayed in the top spot with $17M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, we’ve got a new take on the first Noel ("The Nativity Story," starring Keisha Castle-Hughes), endangered Americans in Brazil ("Turistas," starring Melissa George), and a hard partying expat ("Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj," starring Kal Penn). What do the critics have to say?

It may be based on The Greatest Story Ever Told, but critics say "The Nativity Story" is hardly the greatest movie ever made — or even a particularly good one. In case you need a refresher on the origins of the upcoming holiday that may be the occasion for you to receive a Playstation 3, "The Nativity Story" tells the tale of a teenager named Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) who is to give birth to the savior of mankind — all the while dealing with political persecution and lousy hotel service. Critics say the film is too safe (strange, given director Catherine Hardwicke‘s previous films about remarkable young people, "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown"), adding little spark to the most inspirational (and familiar) of sagas. "The Nativity Story" currently stands at 26 percent on the Tomatometer.


Mary, don’t you weep.

"Turistas" continues a mini-trend in slasher films that began with "Hostel": arrogant Americans getting their comeuppance in foreign locales. In this case, a group of youngsters are terrorized in Brazil after they fall into the clutches of a mad organ harvester. While some critics have praised the film’s political undertones and better-than-average tension, most say "Turistas" adds little to a stale genre. At 38 percent on the Tomatometer, this tourist trap may be worth avoiding.


"Turistas": Return I won’t to old Brazil.

"Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" was not screened for critics, which may indicate that it has the potential to sink like a stone with the scribes. (The original "Van Wilder" garnered a robust 17 percent.) Guess that Tomatometer.


They may not be toasting when the reviews come out….

Opening this week in limited release: "10 Items or Less," a laid-back romance starring Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega, is at 53 percent; "3 Needles," a globe-spanning drama about the toll of the AIDS virus, is at 33 percent; and "The Architect," a tale of two families in conflict over a public housing structure, is at 33 percent.

Notable Biblical Epics:
——————————
51% — The Passion of the Christ (2004)
80% — The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
88% — The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1965)
96% — Ben Hur (1959)
91% — The Ten Commandments (1956)

Recent Slasher Movies:
—————————-
29% — Saw III (2006)
18% — Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
57% — Feast (2006)
35% — Calvaire (2006)
20% — Mad Cowgirl (2006)

The post-turkey blues will kick in as the North American box office should slump this weekend following a busy Thanksgiving holiday frame.

Three new releases venture into the multiplexes. The Biblical drama "The Nativity Story" will open in the most theaters and try to court a faith-based audience as Christmas nears. Teens and young adults looking to push the envelope with R-rated fare have the college comedy "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" and the horror thriller "Turistas." Meanwhile, the penguin toon "Happy Feet" and the James Bond actioner "Casino Royale" will both be past the $100M mark by Friday and will try to stay atop the charts for a third straight time.

The story of Baby Jesus comes to the big screen with New Line’s "The Nativity Story" which stars Keisha Castle-Hughes ("Whale Rider") as Mary. The PG-rated film should appeal to Christian parents wanting to share the religious saga with their children in an environment that the whole family can enjoy. Certainly "The Passion of the Christ" showed how big a Biblical film could be at the box office. However, "Nativity" is completely different and does not have that film’s high-profile director, controversy, or national media frenzy.


Keisha Castle-Hughes and friends in "The Nativity Story."

Instead, it may tap into the same audience as October’s Babylon epic "One Night With the King" which opened to $4.1M from just 909 theaters for a $4,518 average. "The Nativity Story" will launch in more than twice the number of theaters and has a more timely release with December 25 right around the corner, but could generate a similar per-theater average. Critics have not been kind to the pic which might prompt some to wait for the DVD. Opening in around 2,800 theaters, "The Nativity Story" could collect about $13M over the weekend.

Four and a half years after the release of National Lampoon’s first raunchy college comedy "Van Wilder" comes a new installment with "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj." This R-rated tale finds Taj (Kal Penn) from the first film moving to England to teach a group of misfits how to party down. It’s been a tough road in recent weeks for R-rated films aimed at young males. "Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny," "Let’s Go to Prison," and "Harsh Times" all opened with about $2M or $3M a piece. "Taj" has some brand recognition since the first "Van Wilder" went on to become popular on video and on cable. In theaters, it opened to $7.3M and a $3,612 average in April 2002 leading to a $21M final. However, a crowded marketplace will make it tough for the sequel to stand out. And "Borat" becoming a runaway smash with four straight $10M+ weekends won’t help either. Opening in 2,000 around theaters, "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" might debut with about $5M.


Kal Penn returns in "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj."

Fox’s new division Fox Atomic, which will cater to teen and young adult audiences, sets sail with its first film with the horror pic "Turistas." The R-rated thriller is directed by John Stockwell ("Blue Crush," "Crazy/Beautiful") and follows a group of American tourists on vacation in Brazil who cross paths with creepy organ harvesters. No starpower here. Instead, Fox is hoping to appeal to college kids looking for a good scare. Outside of older teens and twentysomethings, appeal should be minimal. Even with its core audience, "Turistas" will have to share shelf space with "Taj" so potential will be limited. Opening in less than 2,000 theaters, "Turistas" could find its way to a weekend gross of roughly $4M.


A trio of scared turistas in "Turistas."

Among holdovers, films usually suffer steep declines on the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday frame. Overall box office spending contracts and studios usually avoid programming any of their heavy hitters into the slot. In fact in the last 15 years, only one new release has opened at number one during this particular weekend – 2003’s "The Last Samurai."

This weekend, it could end up being "Happy Feet" and "Casino Royale" duking it out for box office supremacy for the third straight time. Family pics do extremely well over the turkey frame, but then come down hard a week later. Plus "The Nativity Story" could provide some competition for families. Warner Bros. might suffer a 55% fall for its penguin film which would leave it with $17M for the weekend and $120M after 17 days.

The new blonde Bond is pleasing audiences worldwide and in the United States, "Casino Royale" is set to give "Die Another Day" a run for its money thanks to good word-of-mouth. With kids back in school, the Sony adventure film has taken over the number one spot during the mid-week period. "Casino" could drop by 50% this weekend to around $15M which would push the domestic cume to $116M. Look for the global tally to surpass the $400M mark with ease by the end of the holiday season.

Last weekend, Denzel Washington‘s action thriller "Deja Vu" got off to a good start with a $28.6M five-day bow. Buena Vista may witness a 50% drop and collect roughly $10M over three days and raise its 12-day total to $43M.

LAST YEAR: For the third straight weekend, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" rose to the head of the class and grossed $19.9M to lead the box office. Paramount opened its Charlize Theron actioner "Aeon Flux" to $12.7M on its way to a lukewarm $25.9M. It was the only new wide release of the weekend. "Walk the Line" dropped to third with $9.5M, "Yours, Mine, and Ours" placed fourth with $8.3M, and "Just Friends" rounded out the top five with $5.6M.