Michael Sheen has two movies in release this weekend. The classically-trained Welsh actor plays Lucien in the wildly commercial Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Sony), opening on about 3,000 screens, and he plays David Frost in Frost/Nixon (Universal), expanding to about 800 playdates.

He is a classically-trained stage actor, who has starred in heavyweight UK productions of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Amadeus and The Dresser, was somehow overlooked by both Hollywood Foreign Press and Oscar voters when he starred as Tony Blair in 2006’s The Queen. (He was outshined by Helen Mirren, who won every acting prize imaginable). This year, he is in the shadow of Frank Langella’s towering portrayal of President Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon.

As an aside, The Queen was the second in screenwriter Peter Morgan’s Tony Blair trilogy. The first film was called The Deal for British television and tells the story of the rivalry between Blair and current British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (This is a great title to put in your Netflix or Blockbuster cue.) The final film will be called The Special Relationship, which will focus on the intimate friendship between the British PM and President Bill Clinton between 1997-2000. Sheen has signed on, but there is no word on who will play Clinton. Morgan says the idea for the third film began to germinate when he heard that Blair and Clinton were alone together when Vice President Al Gore conceded the 2000 election.

In the meantime, Sheen will almost certainly have the #1 movie in America this weekend with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. This is the third Underworld movie, but it is a prequel set in the dark ages with Sheen as Lucien, a young werewolf, who leads a war against Bill Nighy as Viktor, the leader of the vampire race.

2003’s Underworld, directed by Len Wiseman, opened to $21.75M ($52M cume) and Underworld: Evolution improved to a $26.85M opening in 2006 on its way to $62M domestic. But Rise of the Lycans is an origins story and will reportedly not include the sexy, black leather-clad Selene (Kate Beckinsale), so the 3-day could be a bit softer than the last outing. I am predicting a possible $24.34M.

Sheen and Beckinsale were a longstanding couple prior to shooting the original Underworld, and they have a daughter together, but the actress left him for director Wiseman during what must have been a tumultuous shoot. Wiseman and Beckinsale were married in 2004, and teamed up for Underworld: Evolution, in which Sheen’s Lucien character was only seen in flashbacks. Now, Patrick Tatopoulos has stepped in as director on Underworld 3 sans Beckinsale.

Meanwhile, Frost/Nixon goes wider, but it just hasn’t quite clicked with softer-than-expected Per Theatre Averages over the holidays. The Ron Howard-directed biopic with absolutely immaculate reviews could reach $3.35M with a PTA of $4,200 or so. That could make it the fourteenth-best grossing movie of the 3-day.

A fair number of bloggers questioned my prediction last week that Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) would win the MLK weekend, but the tracking was incredibly solid with Males Under 25, which is a big money demo. With no direct competition, this big dumb comedy should hold up pretty well and could dip a mere 41% for a $17M 3-day, enough for second place.

Two Warner Bros releases will battle for third, but I am giving Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino a slight edge over its new fantasy film Inkheart. Torino could ride Oscar attention to another $13.5M, but Iain Softley’s new film based on Cornelia Funke’s novel of the same name has met with lukewarm reviews (46% Fresh as of Wednesday night) and doesn’t show much traction with audiences in industry tracking. That could mean a fourth place finish with a possible $13.2M.

I am anticipating that the live action family film Hotel For Dogs (Dreamworks/Paramount) will likely hold well with about $10.5M to round out the top five. Emma Roberts, from Nickelodeon’s Unfabulous and the 2007 film version of Nancy Drew ($25.6M domestic), and Jake T. Austin, presently starring in Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, have a decent little hit for their resumes with a possible $35M in the bank after ten days.

Three Oscar nominees will expand this weekend, and they will show nice increases. Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire expands from 601 to just over 1,000 playdates, and it may see a 52% increase from last weekend for about $8.9M. Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight), featuring Mickey Rourke’s career game-changing performance, adds about 365 screens, and I think it could add $4.5M, which would mean a Per Theatre Average of $10K. Finally, Revolutionary Road (Dreamworks/Paramount) widens to 800 or so locations, and its PTA could be something in the $5,500 range for a possible $4.4M.

FINAL WEEKEND 3-DAY PREDICTIONS FOR JANUARY 23-25
1. NEW – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Sony) – $24.34M
2. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) – $17M
3. Gran Torino (Warner Bros) – $13.5M
4. NEW – Inkheart (Warner Bros) – $13.2M
5. Hotel For Dogs (Paramount) – $10.5M
6. My Bloody Valentine 3D (Lionsgate) – $9.9M
7. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) – $8.9M
8. Notorious (Fox Searchlight) – $8.25M
9. Bride Wars (Fox) – $5.85M
10. Defiance (Paramount Vantage) – $4.75M
11. The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight) – $4.5M
12. Revolutionary Road (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $4.4M
13. The Unborn (Universal) – $3.5M
14. Frost/Nixon (Universal) – $3.35M

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