Lucas prequel sells out many venues

HOLLYWOOD — The Spidey “Wars” have begun.

Showings of George Lucas’ “Stars Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” sold out in many venues on Thursday, including many midnight presentations of the latest franchise prequel. That supports pre-release projections that 20th Century Fox space epic will rocket past Sony’s rival box office phenom “Spider-Man” this weekend — though no one expects “Clones” to outdistance the record $114.8 million “Spidey” opening.

“Attack of the Clones” bowed Thursday on 6,000 screens in 3,161 theaters domestically, including 63 digital screens. Worldwide plans also include near-day-and-date “Clones” bows in Europe and several Asian markets, with Latin America getting pic a bit later.

A first-day “Clones” gross couldn’t be projected. But sources said midnight showings alone — staged by several U.S. distribs in addition to other show times beginning later in the morning — contributed upward of $6 million in combined grosses.

Strong first day

The first-day “Clones” gross ultimately is expected to figure among the top box office days ever. “Spidey” holds the top two spots on that list with daily perfs of $43.6 million and $39.4 million — the Saturday and Friday grosses, respectively, during pic’s May 3 opening weekend.

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence clearly suggest “Clones” had a boffo Thursday.

“Our midnight showings did extremely well, with numerous sellouts and costumed ‘Star Wars’ fans camping out and making for a very festive environment,” said Dick Westerling, spokesman for giant exhib Regal Entertainment. “It met and exceeded our expectations, and we’re off to a terrific start for the weekend.”

Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder observed: “The midnight shows were a celebration for the fans. And I’ve been hearing stories from all over the country about everybody just having a good time — which is what it’s all just about.”

Thursday matinees were also busy, with sellouts reported in L.A. venues including the Mann Chinese and Mann Village and at Gotham’s Empire and Ziegfeld theaters, Snyder added.

Universal’s “About a Boy” is the only other wide opener this weekend. The Working Title laffer, based on a Nick Hornby bestseller and starring Hugh Grant, unspools in 1,200 locations today.

Distrib plans to expand “Boy” further over the Memorial Day frame, hoping to build on opening-sesh traction in a counterprogramming gambit. Still, most of this weekend’s B.O. hoo-hah is sure to revolve around “Clones” — and how it stacks up against “Spidey.”

Web tix surge

Internet movie ticketer MovieTickets.com said it’s sold over 400,000 advance tickets for “Clones,” more than it sold for the first 13 days of “Spider-Man.” But that’s no doubt largely because MovieTickets is the official ticketing click-through on Lucasfilm’s official fan Web site StarWars.com, with MovieTickets selling almost 100,000 “Clones” ducats on Wednesday alone.

Some suggest the trend toward ever-wider bows and surging interest in event pics like “Clones” and “Spidey” could prompt a broader embrace of dot-com ticketers. Chief among other such Netcos are AOLMovieFone.com and Fandango.com.

“Once people start realizing they can save 15 to 30 minutes over (buying tickets) at the theater, you’re going to start seeing more and more people using Internet ticketing,” said David Davis, senior veep and box office analyst at Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin in Los Angeles.

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