‘Matrix’ metrics

Variety editorial

Matrix Revolutions” has been in theaters for only a week. Already, though, many in showbiz are suggesting its simultaneous, worldwide release pattern is a model to be emulated by congloms looking to maximize weekend returns and minimize piracy.

Copycats beware: Risk-averse companies should consider that this instant-gratification gambit has the makings of a costly quagmire. For a preview, simply flash back on the domestic wreckage from the 1990s megaplex building boom and opening-weekend fixation. Once a 3,000-plus theater count became de rigeur, the casualties started to mount. Not every film is cut out for such a wide pattern, but congloms insist on trying to make predictable an inherently unpredictable process.

Warner Bros., Village Roadshow and producer Joel Silver managed to crack the $200 million mark worldwide, setting “Revolutions” on the road to profitability and certifying the “Matrix” series as a member of the franchise elite. The principals deserve credit for redefining the tentpole exercise, shooting multiple installments at once and distributing them in the same calendar year.

The delivery of the goods, however, was made possible by the pre-sold nature of the package. Fox launched “X2” in 80 countries last May for similar reasons.

If the tide does shift in this direction, overseas marketing and distribution would be radically reconceived. Some considerable economies of scale can be realized by shotgunning movies into theaters across the globe, but a degree of lag time between domestic and overseas can often be used to fine-tune the rollout and goose the grosses.

“The advantage of the traditional pattern is that you know which films to dump and which ones to support,” observes one former studio boss.

A generation ago, the rule of thumb was that you open in one or two cities, then see if you could grow from there. Then it became, open in one or two countries and see if you could build on that. But now … every city in every country?

The inevitable upshot: At some point, a massive global flop, an “Ishtar” for the ages.

Is that where we’re headed?

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