Although the fate of where their big-footed creatures will alight to shoot The Hobbit is still undetermined, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have begun to officially cast the projects with Martin Freeman, as expected, set to play Bilbo Baggins. A host of other names was also announced Thursday.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that a meeting is set for Tuesday between New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Warner execs in a last-ditch effort to keep the films in the country, although The Independent cites Fran Walsh as saying The Hobbit could soon be enrolling in Hogwarts.
A government spokeswoman told the WSJ that talks between Key and Warner execs are scheduled to take place in Wellington on Tuesday, but she would not specify who is attending the meeting on Warners' behalf.
According to The Independent, Fran Walsh told Radio New Zealand on Thursday that Warners wanted to shift production to the UK's Leavesden Studios where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
"They've got a huge studio that Harry Potter have vacated, that they own...that they say would be perfect for us," she said, adding that other UK locations were being scouted.
Reuters further reported, citing estimates from economists at New Zealand's ANZ-National bank, that the nation's economy could lose as much as $1.5 billion if Warner Bros. relocates the project.
Back to casting … New Line COO/president Toby Emmerich, Warner Bros COO/president Alan Horn, MGM co-CEO Stephen Cooper and Jackson also announced on Thursday that Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Rob Kazinsky, Graham McTavish, John Callen, Stephen Hunter, Mark Hadlow and Peter Hambleton have all been set.
While Deadline reports that nothing's definite, there are rumblings that James Nesbitt and David Tennant are up for roles, while Stephen Fry, Saoirse Ronan and Bill Nighy are possible participants.
Regarding Freeman, Jackson said, "Despite the various rumors and speculation surrounding this role, there has only ever been one Bilbo Baggins for us. There are a few times in your career when you come across an actor who you know was born to play a role, but that was the case as soon as I met Martin. He is intelligent, funny, surprising and brave -- exactly like Bilbo and I feel incredibly proud to be able to announce that he is our Hobbit."
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Box office figures were Served this Super Bowl weekend.
The youthful hip-hop dance film You Got Served, starring the defunct boy band B2K, took the top spot with $16 million*, knocking last week's champ, the Ashton Kutcher thriller The Butterfly Effect, down to the third spot with $9.9 million.
"[You Got Served] is one of those movies that flies beneath the radar, then suddenly, it's at No. 1," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press. "It just shows when you go after that teen audience, it's an audience that definitely has power."
Second place belonged to the raucous romantic comedy Along Came Polly, which took in a decent $10 million, while the regal The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King came in fourth with $5.2 million.
Rounding out the top five was another newcomer, the SAT heist flick The Perfect Score with $5 million, while the other heist flick opening this week, The Big Bounce, failed to make it to the top 10, scraping by with a measly $3.3 million.
With the Academy Award nominations announced on Tues. Jan. 27, the box office also saw a few familiar faces return in re-release, including Best Picture nominees Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which earned $2.3 million in 1,118 theaters, and Lost in Translation, which grossed $2.1 million in 632 theaters. Both joined Mystic River, which expanded last week. The indie drama Monster, which stars Best Actress nominee Charlize Theron, also saw a 49 percent jump, with a healthy $3 million in 668 theaters.
The overall Super Bowl weekend figures of $75.2 million, were slightly down, 5.93 percent, from the same Super Bowl weekend last year (which came a week earlier), at $79.9 million.
THE TOP TEN
Screen Gems' PG-13 rated hip-hoppin' You Got Served opened in the No. 1 slot with an ESTIMATED $16 million, which comes somewhat as a surprise since it only opened in 1,933 theaters. Still, its $8,277 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this week.
The former boy band B2K hits the big screen as an urban dance crew competing for a big cash prize.
Directed by Chris Stokes, it stars Marques Houston, Omarion, Jarell "J-Booq" Houston and Dreux "Lil Fizz" Frederic.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Along Came Polly stayed in second place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10 million (-38%) in 3,052 theaters (+57 theaters; $3,300 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.7 million.
Directed by John Hamburg, it stars Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Debra Messing.
Last week's champ, New Line Cinema's R rated supernatural drama The Butterfly Effect, dropped to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.9 million (-42%) in 2,605 theaters (unchanged; $3,820 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.4 million.
Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, it stars Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Elden Henson and Ethan Suplee.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King actually moved up a spot to fourth in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-22%) at 2,556 theaters (-302 theaters; $2,338 per theater). Its cume is approximately $345.2 million.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated dramedy The Perfect Score opened in fifth place, scoring $5 million in 2,208 theaters with a $2,264 per theater average.
A group of high school seniors conspire to steal the answers to the SAT test.
Directed by Brian Robbins, it stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen, Bryan Greenberg and Leonardo Nam.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony's PG-13 rated drama Big Fish dropped two notches to fourth place in its eighth week with an ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-35%) in 2,280 theaters (-158 theaters; $2,018 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.3 million.
Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter and Alison Lohman.
Miramax Films' R rated Civil War drama Cold Mountain held on to seventh place in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-9%) at 2,500 theaters (-302; $1,813 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $78.8 million.
Directed by Anthony Minghella, it stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger.
Dropping considerably, DreamWorks' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! came in at No. 8 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-39%) in 2,808 theaters (+97; $1,603 per theater). Its cume is approximately $13.4 million.
Directed by Robert Luketic, it stars Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel and Topher Grace.
Warner Bros.' dramatic R rated Mystic River moved up a spot to ninth place since expanding to more theaters last week with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (+31%) at 1,370 theaters (+43 theaters; $3,215 per theater). Its cume is approximately $64.8 million.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG rated family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen rounded out the top 10 in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-36%) in 2,396 theaters (-416 theaters; $1,711 per theater). Its cume is approximately $127.8 million.
Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff and Tom Welling.
Warner Bros. PG-13 rated Hawaiian heist caper The Big Bounce didn't have much spring in its step in its opening weekend, taking in an ESTIMATED $3.3 million in 2,304 theaters with a $1,439 per theater average.
Directed by George Armitage, it stars Owen Wilson, Charlie Sheen, Morgan Freeman, Sara Foster and Gary Sinise.
This week, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $75.2 million, down 8.75 percent from last week's $82.4 million, as well as down 19.65 percent from last year's $93.6 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's PG-13 rated The Recruit debuted at the No. 1 spot with $16.3 million at 2,376 theaters with a $6,861 per theater average; New Line Cinema's R rated horror sequel Final Destination 2 opened in second with $16 million in 2,834 theaters with a $5,652 per theater average; and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated actioner Biker Boyz premiered in third with $10 million in 1,766 theaters with a $5,723 per theater average.