Will Smith a "Legend" of late fall box office
( Reuters ) - Will Smith is on track to achieve legendary status at the weekend box office. The actor returns to theaters on Friday with "I Am Legend," a sci-fi thriller in which he plays the last man left on Earth after a man-made virus has wiped out everyone else.
Box office observers expect the Warner Bros. release to open above $40 million for the three-day weekend, easily taking the crown from "The Golden Compass," which topped the field last weekend with a disappointing $26 million. Smith was last in theaters with "The Pursuit of Happyness ," which kicked off with $26.5 million in December 2006.
"Will is a four-quadrant star," said Dan Fellman , the studio's president of domestic theatrical distribution, touting solid film-anticipation ratings among both genders, young and old.
The film, based on a Richard Matheson novella and preceded by a couple of previous film adaptations, opens in 3,606 theaters, including 77 Imax venues. "Legend" will play in 2-D projection in all venues. The studio will include a six-minute prologue teaser to its latest "Batman" film, "The Dark Knight," in all of the Imax venues showing "Legend."
Also this weekend, Fox debuts its live-action/animation hybrid " Alvin and the Chipmunks." Alvin and his pals are computer-generated, while the rest of the film is live action. The Fox comedy should open well above $20 million.
"The Perfect Holiday" opened on Wednesday, but early grosses were not encouraging for the urban comedy. It reaches theaters three weeks after the solid performer "This Christmas," another seasonal film boasting a mostly black cast. Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard star in the latest entry.
The Yari Film Group release appears unlikely to ring up more than single-digit millions during the weekend.
Opening in limited release is Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth" in six venues -- three in Los Angeles, two in New York and one in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, industry executives hope that "Legend," "Chipmunks" and others can end the box office's losing streak. Last weekend was the fifth consecutive session that underperformed the corresponding 2006 frame. Twelve of the past 13 weekends have notched year-over-year downticks.
Year-to-date, 2007 is 4.7% ahead of the same portion of '06 at $8.66 billion, thanks to higher ticket prices. But the holiday season is off 12% so far.