Lost World' already a bell-ringer at MovieFone

It’s a monster and it’s coming to a theater near you May 23.

Anticipation for Universal’s “The Lost World” is palpable. Studio tracking is through the roof, with the film listed as the first choice among moviegoers weeks before its opening.

On Friday, the picture was added to MovieFone’s listings and ranked third behind debuting pics “The Fifth Element” and “Fathers’ Day” in the number of caller requests and sales.

“It was a very close third and this type of response is unprecedented for us this far in advance of an opening,” MovieFone president Russ Leatherman said. “We get more than 2 million calls weekly, so the film’s already had in excess of 100,000 inquiries and ticket sales that top 10,000.”

Films are listed on the service only when theater locations and show times have been set, so Leatherman credits Universal for much of the leg work required to have the picture in the mix.

As a rule, event pictures come online three to seven days prior to opening. Major Disney releases have been an exception, but involved far fewer screens than “Lost World,” which will open on close to 4,000 screens.

“We definitely wanted to get the word out as soon as possible,” Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. “We provided MovieFone with a list of theaters in the 26 markets where the service is available and encouraged exhibitors to set times right away. It’s really advantageous for everyone.”

Beginning today, an added 10-day promotional push will involve the daily random selection of a “lost tickets” winner from an advance ticket purchaser. Winners will receive a week’s vacation package to Kauai, Hawaii. Leatherman said that a different city will be selected daily and that winners will be notified live online.

Industry interest in the sequel to the all-time top worldwide grosser centers on several commercial factors. Its Memorial Day four-day weekend slot makes the Steven Spielberg dino-opus the first summer event release. And while both Disney’s “Con Air” and Fox’s “Speed 2″ are expected to be solid B.O. performers, “Lost World” won’t have a major challenger for four weeks, when Warner Bros.’ “Batman and Robin” hits movie screens.

Pundits believe “Lost World’s” placement on the schedule could well translate into a record opening weekend of more than $60 million and $250 million in its first month of release. However, more difficult to predict is whether it will expand regular filmgoing this summer, and if so, to what extent.

“We don’t have a lot of pictures to compare interest with this far from opening day, so I wouldn’t even begin to peg a number to it,” Leatherman noted. “But there’s no question the film is going to be a blockbuster — probably setting several box office records.”

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