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'Kong' Sets Sight on Box Office Throne

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By Bob Tourtellotte

He's already 25 feet tall and 8,000 pounds, but if Universal Pictures has its way, great ape King Kong is only going to get bigger.

The movie studio on Tuesday said its gargantuan film "King Kong" will play in 3,568 U.S. and Canadian theaters and another 6,000-plus venues in 55 regions around the world when it hits screens just after midnight on December 14.

While that's not a record -- several films have seen wider debuts and "Shrek 2" holds the record at 4,163 U.S. and Canadian theaters -- the number nevertheless is huge.

"(Theater owners) want it, and they want it in as many play dates as they can get it," said Nikki Rocco, Universal film distribution president.

Rocco declined to predict just how much business the widely anticipated film from "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson can scare up at box offices, but she did say Universal hopes for a figure that would rival the first "Rings" movie.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" debuted in December 2001 to initial five-day ticket sales of more than $75 million, and that appears to be easy pickings for "Kong."

More recently, "Spider-Man" and the final two "Rings" movies all took in more than $100 million in their first five days, according to box office tracker www.Boxofficemojo.com.

Brandon Gray, president of Boxofficemojo.com, also declined to predict debut ticket sales for "Kong," saying many variables would have an impact.

He cited its PG-13 rating, which might restrict the number of younger moviegoers, and the roughly three-hour running time, which reduces the number of times it can screen in one day compared with a standard, two-hour movie.

"The question is not: 'Will it be big?' The question is: 'how big it will be?'," he said. "It is poised to be the highest grossing picture of December."

At a cost of more than $200 million to make and tens of millions more to market, Universal needs "King Kong" to play big in order to make a profit.

So far Jackson's remake of the 1933 classic about a giant ape plucked from a mysterious island and transported back to the United States has a lot of factors working in its favor.

The movie has been widely anticipated and Jackson has a stellar reputation and huge fan base from the three "Rings" movies, which have raked in more than $2.6 billion combined.

Moreover, critics have raved about "Kong." Kirk Honeycutt, reviewer for show business newspaper The Hollywood Reporter, called it "spectacle filmmaking at its best."

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