Count Olaf may have a hard time getting his hands on the Baudelaire children's trust fund, but Jim Carrey's latest should have no trouble grabbing the lion's share of this weekend's box office take. Word of mouth is strong on Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which will saturate multiplexes on 3,600 screens. With November's kids' movies having run their course, and with no Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movies this winter, children and grown-up fantasy fans alike will flock to the flick, which should open as high as $44 million.
This weekend's other new wide releases are likely to do no better than a fourth of Snicket's business. Adam Sandler's prestige project Spanglish is likely to emulate his Punch-Drunk Love by scaring off his usual fan base, leaving only enough viewers for an $11 million opening and a third-place finish. The barely-marketed Flight of the Phoenix, moved up a week at the last minute to avoid competition with Leonardo DiCaprio's little airplane movie, will suffer from its modest star power (Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Tyrese) and will land in fourth place with a $9 million opening. The young male action-adventure fans who might have gone to see Phoenix will still be lining up for last week's champ, Ocean's Twelve. Even with a 45 percent falloff in sales, the all-star caper should still steal another $22 million this weekend and finish at No. 2.Battling for fifth place will be Blade: Trinity and The Polar Express. Blade is fresher, but Polar has shown surprising legs over the last few weeks, apparently proving right those marketing execs who said the Christmas-themed film would do better business as the holiday approaches. It should earn $8 million this weekend, edging out the vampire saga for top-five bragging rights.