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FRIDAY UPDATE: Friday U.S. Matinees: Bond Beating Birds

THURSDAY UPDATE: I’m told Casino Royale with Daniel Craig is having the biggest opening day ever for a Bond film in the UK. Looks like it will beat previous high from Die Another Day for sure. The pic did 1.7M pounds in the UK, which was 67% of the day’s total box office. 007′s previous highest total for a UK opening was Die Another Day‘s 1.1M pounds.

Ultimately, it may come down to running times and theater count to see which will open No. 1 in America this weekend: Warner’s Happy Feet is only 1 hour, 38 minutes long with 3,804 playdates, while Sony’s Casino Royale is 2 hours, 24 minutes long (the longest Bond flick ever) with 3,434 theaters. My own bet is the penguins since they have more showings per day and in more theaters. (But that’s balanced by those cut-rate kiddie tickets.) I just heard that Sony is lowering expectations and expects to come in 2nd to Happy Feet here at home — counting more on foreign sales. Today’s 007 opening day in England. For the first time, a Bond pic will be released in China (Jan. 30). The latest tracking shows them still neck and neck to be America’s No. 1 movie. this weekend And then there’s the Borat factor. happyfeetsfeer.jpgThe penguin pic is tracking incredibly strong, with great awareness and definite interest among families, parents and kids. It also holds the lead in all females 12 and up in the general sample against the spy pic. But Bond made significant progress this week and solidified strength with males. It also made slight inroads with older females. But the birds still have the young females firmly in their camp and an edge on the older females. Both Happy Feet and Casino Royale are being marketed to within an inch of their screen lives and getting great, good, and a few not-so-good, reviews. Now, in terms of Casino Royale‘s debut $$$, look at the past. The last 007 was Die Another Day, which had a 2-hour running time and earned $47 mil for its Nov. 22, 2002, opening weekend. (It went on to earn $160 mil domestically, $271 mil overseas, for a cume of $432 mil.) It was the biggest grosser of Bond’s Pierce Brosnan series. And, while we’re on 007, I never thought I’d ever see a sentence like this in The New York Times — but there it is in Manohla Dargis’ new review of Casino Royale: “They have also surrounded Mr. Craig with estimable supporting players, including the French actress Eva Green, whose talent is actually larger than her breasts.”

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

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