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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Now we have a horse race -- a box office derby, that is.
Just weeks after Fox sat atop a big lead in year-to-date domestic totals, Paramount has blown past its crosstown rival on the strength of a comic book superhero and an adventuresome archaeologist. And despite a big misfire by its car-race family film, "Speed Racer," Warner Bros. suddenly is charging hard on the derby leaders thanks to a heady weekend of "Sex."
The weekend's overachieving $57 million bow by female-magnet "Sex and the City" renewed Warners' chances at summertime glory.
A studio's entire year can hinge on how its big summer "tentpoles" perform, with seasonal tallies representing about 40% of annual sales.
Of course, it's still early in summer 2008, and all three year-to-date leaders have important films set to bow before Labor Day.
For now, Paramount rides a $163.1 million lead over Fox, with the former boasting a 20% market share on $729.4 million in year-to-date grosses, according to Nielsen EDI. Fox's $566.3 million is good for a 15.5% market share, while Warners rounds out the top three with a 13.9% share on $509 million.
Paramount's leading performance has been built chiefly on distribution success with a couple of films it doesn't own -- Marvel Studios' "Iron Man" ($276 million) and Lucasfilm's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" ($215 million). The studio should pad its chart-topping advantage further this weekend when it unspools another such film: DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda."
"Panda" looks likely to open somewhere north of $40 million, with Sony's Adam Sandler comedy "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" its only major rival. The second weekend of "Sex" could be a tad limp if its box office draw proves unusually frontloaded, and the Indy sequel already has proven a one-week wonder after absorbing a big 55 percent second-session drop-off in grosses.
Paramount will release just one more film after "Panda" in the summer: "The Love Guru," a Mike Myers comedy set for June 20.
That same date, Warners -- whose market heft rose considerably when it took over distribution of New Line titles in April -- bows the Steve Carell comedy "Get Smart." And Warners' four other remaining summer openers include an almost certain hit in the Batman sequel "The Dark Knight."
Fox has seven films still to bow in the summer, but only two appear likely candidates for $100 million-plus runs. Those include M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" (June 13) and "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" (July 25), though the Eddie Murphy vehicle "Meet Dave" (July 11) also could have a shot.
Disney sits fourth in year-to-date market share with $377 million (10.3%), and Sony is fifth with $370.5 million (10.2%), according to EDI data.
Disney's two remaining summer releases include Pixar's "Wall-E," and Sony has "Zohan" and four other summer films still to unspool. But it's unlikely either will top year-to-date rankings by Labor Day after starting June so far back in the distribution pack.