"Max Payne" has box-office crown in its sights

Thu Oct 16, 2008 9:22pm EDT
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By Carl DiOrio

ORLANDO (Hollywood Reporter) - The movie theater operators who attended the ShowEast conference here had to rush back to change their marquees Friday as another batch of new titles hit multiplexes.

Among the newcomers is 20th Century Fox's "Max Payne," an adaptation of the action-packed videogame that stars Mark Wahlberg in the titular avenging-cop role and has the young-male demographic in its sights. How high into the teen millions it will open depends on how many young men bring dates to the theater Saturday, with its Friday debut likely to be substantial regardless.

But the movie certainly won't have the market to itself, and the studio even has a second wide-release debutante of its own in Fox Searchlight drama "The Secret Life of Bees."

"Bees" -- which stars Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning in a drama based on the novel of the same name -- couldn't target a more distinct audience from "Payne." It aims to reach older women and, to a lesser extent, younger females. Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Paul Bettany fill out the ensemble cast, but reviews could prove key to "Bees" being anywhere near a breakout hit during the crowded weekend.

Elsewhere among the debutantes, Lionsgate unspools Oliver Stone's George W. Bush biopic "W." amid decent early response from critics lauding a relatively even-handed treatment of the subject matter by the film's controversial helmer. A top-three finish seems likely given broad audience anticipation for the release just weeks before the presidential election.

Summit Entertainment's R-rated comedy "Sex Drive" goes after much the same demographic group as does "Payne." Light prerelease interest, according to tracking surveys, indicates that "Sex" will fetch a weekend gross somewhere in the single-digit millions.

Meanwhile, the four wide openers will increase a recent glut of films crowding multiplexes for a piece of the box-office action in a season hardly known for robust grosses. Yet if one or more of the new releases click, that could put another notch in the win column for the industry, much like the year-over-year uptick posted during the previous weekend despite some misfires among the frame's wide releases.

Seasonal grosses are tracking about 8 percent ahead of the same portion of fall 2007. That's mostly thanks to easy comparisons with limp year-ago weekends -- as well as some good box-office bite from Disney's family comedy "Beverly Hills Chihuahua."

"Chihuahua" could approach double-digit millions during its third session to grab one of the frame's top rankings after finishing No. 1 in its first two weekends.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

<p>Cast member Mark Wahlberg, who stars in the movie "Max Payne", poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, California October 12, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>