December 5, 2008 / 3:03 AM / 10 years ago

Awards contenders enter box office ring

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Can you say “upmarket?” Increasingly, the holiday season’s mainstream titles will start sharing the box office spotlight with year-end “prestige” releases as industry awards programs crank into gear and adult moviegoers gravitate to multiplexes.

Sean Penn arrives for a Cinema Society screening of the film "Milk" in New York November 18, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

That means this weekend’s release of “Frost/Nixon” in a handful of locations will be closely watched, with director Ron Howard, stars Frank Langella and Michael Sheen and writer Peter Morgan already generating kudos-season buzz.

The Harvey Milk biopic “Milk,” starring Sean Penn, and the Indian game show drama “Slumdog Millionaire” also figure in nominations handicapping, and their recent limited rollouts have gone well. Most observers expect similar success when the art films mount significant expansions this weekend.

Two pictures open in wide release Friday: Lionsgate unleashes its action sequel “Punisher: War Zone,” while Sony trots out its period musical drama “Cadillac Records.” But neither seems to be a likely No. 1 opener, meaning Warner Bros.’ “Four Christmases” could mark a second session atop the domestic box office.

The “Punisher” sequel should gross more than $10 million, mostly from young male moviegoers. But it might struggle to match the bow of its 2004 predecessor, which opened to $13.8 million en route to a total domestic haul of $33.8 million. Ray Stevenson (“King Arthur”) replaces Thomas Jane in the title role this time.

Opening prospects for “Cadillac” look limited to the single-digit millions, with its firmest support lying with older urban moviegoers. Key cast members including Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright and Beyonce Knowles ensure fan appeal, but a barely wide theater count of fewer than 700 playdates reflects the picture’s modest ambitions.

“Christmases” registered a first-weekend tally of $31.1 million and should do at least half as well during its sophomore session.

Disney’s animated comedy “Bolt,” which got off to a slow start two weekends ago, looks likely to outpace “Punisher” with a three-day sum in the teen millions.

“Australia” — one of three films that unspooled the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — rang up $14.8 million during its first Friday-Sunday frame and could compete for third this weekend. The Fox film stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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