Will Smith looks to save Hollywood at box offices

Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:05pm EST
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By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Will Smith waltzes into the press conference as if he were the living embodiment of his character in his latest film, "I Am Legend" -- here to save Hollywood from a bad case of the box office flu.

Smith shakes every hand, shouts "WHEE" several times and declares "I'm excited to see me!"

In fact, the opposite is true. Hollywood is excited to see him and expects a big holiday present from the science-fiction movie that debuts in a few cities on Wednesday and nationwide two days later.

"This is the movie we need at this time, the right movie in the right place with the right star," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media by Numbers.

Some experts think "I Am Legend," in which Smith portrays a scientist who is the only survivor of a virus that wipes out the population of New York City, will gross as much as $50 million by the end of its first weekend in theaters.

That figure would fall short of the U.S. December opening of 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" with nearly $73 million. But it would bring glad tidings to theater owners who have seen ticket sales slump 7 percent this holiday season compared to last year.

Last year Smith was an Oscar contender with his serious drama, "The Pursuit of Happyness," and in 2001 he fought for Academy Award gold playing boxer Muhammad Ali in the biopic "Ali."

But his 2007 big-budget holiday film is not about winning awards so much as doing what he does best in action adventure films -- delighting movies fans and helping box offices, too.   Continued...

<p>Will Smith arrives for the premiere of the film "I Am Legend" in New York December 11, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>