Box Office Guru Preview: "Nativity" Leads Trio of New Releases

The post-turkey blues will kick in as the North American box office should slump this weekend following a busy Thanksgiving holiday frame.

Three new releases venture into the multiplexes. The Biblical drama "The Nativity Story" will open in the most theaters and try to court a faith-based audience as Christmas nears. Teens and young adults looking to push the envelope with R-rated fare have the college comedy "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" and the horror thriller "Turistas." Meanwhile, the penguin toon "Happy Feet" and the James Bond actioner "Casino Royale" will both be past the $100M mark by Friday and will try to stay atop the charts for a third straight time.

The story of Baby Jesus comes to the big screen with New Line's "The Nativity Story" which stars Keisha Castle-Hughes ("Whale Rider") as Mary. The PG-rated film should appeal to Christian parents wanting to share the religious saga with their children in an environment that the whole family can enjoy. Certainly "The Passion of the Christ" showed how big a Biblical film could be at the box office. However, "Nativity" is completely different and does not have that film's high-profile director, controversy, or national media frenzy.


Keisha Castle-Hughes and friends in "The Nativity Story."

Instead, it may tap into the same audience as October's Babylon epic "One Night With the King" which opened to $4.1M from just 909 theaters for a $4,518 average. "The Nativity Story" will launch in more than twice the number of theaters and has a more timely release with December 25 right around the corner, but could generate a similar per-theater average. Critics have not been kind to the pic which might prompt some to wait for the DVD. Opening in around 2,800 theaters, "The Nativity Story" could collect about $13M over the weekend.

Four and a half years after the release of National Lampoon's first raunchy college comedy "Van Wilder" comes a new installment with "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj." This R-rated tale finds Taj (Kal Penn) from the first film moving to England to teach a group of misfits how to party down. It's been a tough road in recent weeks for R-rated films aimed at young males. "Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny," "Let's Go to Prison," and "Harsh Times" all opened with about $2M or $3M a piece. "Taj" has some brand recognition since the first "Van Wilder" went on to become popular on video and on cable. In theaters, it opened to $7.3M and a $3,612 average in April 2002 leading to a $21M final. However, a crowded marketplace will make it tough for the sequel to stand out. And "Borat" becoming a runaway smash with four straight $10M+ weekends won't help either. Opening in 2,000 around theaters, "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" might debut with about $5M.


Kal Penn returns in "Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj."

Fox's new division Fox Atomic, which will cater to teen and young adult audiences, sets sail with its first film with the horror pic "Turistas." The R-rated thriller is directed by John Stockwell ("Blue Crush," "Crazy/Beautiful") and follows a group of American tourists on vacation in Brazil who cross paths with creepy organ harvesters. No starpower here. Instead, Fox is hoping to appeal to college kids looking for a good scare. Outside of older teens and twentysomethings, appeal should be minimal. Even with its core audience, "Turistas" will have to share shelf space with "Taj" so potential will be limited. Opening in less than 2,000 theaters, "Turistas" could find its way to a weekend gross of roughly $4M.


A trio of scared turistas in "Turistas."

Among holdovers, films usually suffer steep declines on the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday frame. Overall box office spending contracts and studios usually avoid programming any of their heavy hitters into the slot. In fact in the last 15 years, only one new release has opened at number one during this particular weekend - 2003's "The Last Samurai."

This weekend, it could end up being "Happy Feet" and "Casino Royale" duking it out for box office supremacy for the third straight time. Family pics do extremely well over the turkey frame, but then come down hard a week later. Plus "The Nativity Story" could provide some competition for families. Warner Bros. might suffer a 55% fall for its penguin film which would leave it with $17M for the weekend and $120M after 17 days.

The new blonde Bond is pleasing audiences worldwide and in the United States, "Casino Royale" is set to give "Die Another Day" a run for its money thanks to good word-of-mouth. With kids back in school, the Sony adventure film has taken over the number one spot during the mid-week period. "Casino" could drop by 50% this weekend to around $15M which would push the domestic cume to $116M. Look for the global tally to surpass the $400M mark with ease by the end of the holiday season.

Last weekend, Denzel Washington's action thriller "Deja Vu" got off to a good start with a $28.6M five-day bow. Buena Vista may witness a 50% drop and collect roughly $10M over three days and raise its 12-day total to $43M.


LAST YEAR: For the third straight weekend, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" rose to the head of the class and grossed $19.9M to lead the box office. Paramount opened its Charlize Theron actioner "Aeon Flux" to $12.7M on its way to a lukewarm $25.9M. It was the only new wide release of the weekend. "Walk the Line" dropped to third with $9.5M, "Yours, Mine, and Ours" placed fourth with $8.3M, and "Just Friends" rounded out the top five with $5.6M.

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