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AUGUST LOOKS TO BE HOT ONE AT BOX OFFICE `TALLADEGA' WIN SETS PACE.

Byline: GREG HERNANDEZ Staff Writer

So much for the dog days of August.

During a month usually reserved as a dumping ground for movies lacking much box office potential, ``Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby'' sped by expectations with a $47 million opening weekend, according to final grosses released Monday.

And there are more potential breakout hits to come.

The Oliver Stone-directed drama ``World Trade Center'' starring Nicolas Cage opens in theaters Wednesday while the much-buzzed-about thriller ``Snakes on a Plane'' will bow Aug. 18.

``I think this summer is going to really end on a high note,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co.

Last summer, there were few bright spots as the industry suffered through a record streak of down weekends when compared with the record summer of 2004. In contrast, grosses for summer 2006 have surpassed 2005 in 18 out of the last 20 weekends with overall revenue running an impressive 7 percent ahead.

Still boosting business is ``Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest,'' which has grossed just shy of $380 million domestically in five weeks with $11 million coming in last weekend.

Prior to ``Pirates,'' year-to-date summer grosses were actually behind 2005 figures. But that film's blockbuster performance and such hits as ``Talladega,'' ``The Devil Wears Prada,'' ``Superman Returns'' and ``You, Me and Dupree'' have solidified the summer's impressive performance overall.

``There is a winning combination out there right now and audiences are really responding to the diversity of these films,'' Dergarabedian said.

Another movie with breakout potential this month is the Fox Searchlight release ``Little Miss Sunshine,'' which will expand into 140 theaters Friday then goes into wide release Aug. 18 in at least 600 theaters.

The well-reviewed comedy has been a sensation in limited release finishing in 16th place last weekend despite being in only 58 theaters. Its stupendous per screen average of $25,520 was not only double that of ``Talladega'' (which is in 3,803 locations), but the highest of any film in release.

``Sunshine'' added $1.5 million to its two-week total, which now stands at $2.2 million. The film, which stars Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell, had a production budget of just $8 million.

Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, cites Searchlight's track record of successfully platforming critically acclaimed movies including ``Sideways,'' ``Napoleon Dynamite,'' ``Bend it Like Beckham'' and last year's ``Thank You for Smoking.''

``When a picture has that strong word of mouth, it can benefit from the classic platform release by getting the large crowds in the big cities in the early weeks and having the buzz spread throughout the rest of the country as you roll it out,'' Gray said.

Also set for release Friday is the Disney dance film ``Step Up,'' the Tim Allen family adventure ``Zoom,'' and the horror film ``Pulse.'' The following week, ``Snakes'' will square off against the Hilary Duff comedy ``Material Girls'' and the college comedy ``Accepted.''

greg.hernandez(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3758
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 8, 2006
Words:502
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