Sandler, Aniston compete at Christmas box office

Wed Dec 24, 2008 12:40am EST
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By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It may be the season of peace on Earth, but at the box office this holiday weekend it will be all-out war among five new wide releases opening on Christmas Day.

Family audiences are expected to flock to the Adam Sandlercomedy/fantasy "Bedtime Stories" and the canine hijinks of "Marley & Me," starring Jennifer Aniston, which will likely take the top two spots.

Adults can pick between star-crossed lovers Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and the military assassins led by Tom Cruise in "Valkyrie," while genre fans can head off to the graphic novel adaptation "The Spirit."

Upping the competitive ante, Miramax Films is expanding its awards contender "Doubt" nationally. And last weekend's champ "Yes Man," along with "Seven Pounds," both of which were dinged by severe weather across the country, could demonstrate stronger-than-average holds as audiences shovel out.

"It bodes well for all of us because there are a lot of films, and it should be fun for the audience because there are so many choices," said Disney distribution president Chuck Viane, who is handling "Bedtime Stories."

The holiday calendar is certainly cooperating: With Christmas on Thursday, once presents are unwrapped and family gatherings start to wind down, moviegoers are expected to start showing up at the multiplex for evening performances; Friday should support strong Saturday-type numbers; and Saturday and Sunday should continue the momentum, the weather gods permitting.

"You have a slightly better calendar when Christmas is on a Wednesday, but that's being picky," said Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder, whose studio enters the fray with "Marley & Me." "Christmas on a Thursday is still pretty ideal."

Disney's "Bedtime Stories" is positioned to attract families en masse. Starring Sandler as an uncle who entertains his niece and nephew with fantastic stories that start to come true all around him, the PG-rated film won't necessarily appeal to his usual guy fans.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere of the movie "Marley &amp; Me" at the Mann Village theatre in Westwood, California, December 11, 2008. The movie opens in the U.S. on December 25. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>