Sci-fi update bowing in studio-record 3,494 locations

Twentieth Century Fox isn’t monkeying around with today’s “Planet of the Apes” bow, rocketing the sci-fi update into a studio-record 3,494 locations in hopes of an opening north of last weekend’s $50.8 million romp by Universal’s dino sequel “Jurassic Park III.”

“There seems to be great anticipation for our picture,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said. “We’re really popping.”

Engagements rep the second-highest engagement count for any summer opener, after the 3,653-playdate bow of Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 2″ in May 2000. The supersaturation debut continues a recent trend among Hollywood majors of opening tentpole releases with 3,000-plus engagements, taking advantage of a total screen count among U.S. exhibs believed still to be hovering at a historic high above 36,000.

The practice also has helped to shape a more downbeat box office trend that’s seen most recent major releases plummet 50% or more in their second weekends after running so many bodies through cinema turnstiles during opening seshes.

But however hairy the prospects are that “Apes” — an estimated $100 million production — will fall prey to that trend, Fox is confident pic will display sturdy late-summer legs.

It bodes well that “Apes” is tracking well with a broad range of demographics, Snyder said, with younger demos picking up since the July 18 debut of “Jurassic Park III.”

“Once ‘Jurassic’ opened, the younger audience could pay attention to us,” he reasoned.

Planet of the sequels

Fox hopes “Apes” will give birth to a movie franchise as vital as the original, which produced four sequels after its release in 1968. Critical reviews for the newest “Apes” pic will bear watching, of course, but for the time being Fox execs were enthusiastic about its rollout prospects.

“We’re excited and filled with anticipation as parents-to-be,” Snyder quipped.

If Fox execs are going bananas over their big “Apes” rollout, other distribs and certainly exhibs are keenly awaiting signs that pic can build on the boffo “Jurassic Park III” bow and extend a second-half summer box office rally after a ho-hum start to the season.

Though big successes by individual pics can swamp rival releases on any one weekend, most distribs believe a watershed success by one distrib can also serve as a B.O. catalyst that raises all theatrical boats.

Other than “Jurassic Park III” and other previously bowing pics including Sony/Revolution’s “America’s Sweethearts,” “Apes” will have the B.O. field all to itself this weekend. No other wide releases are skedded — the first frame that has happened since Memorial Day’s “Pearl Harbor” launch.

The following weekend, wide releases will include New Line’s “Rush Hour 2,” Disney’s G-rated “The Princess Diaries” and MGM’s “Original Sin.”

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