Int'l grosses methodology makes money issue murky

So who’s on first?

To no one’s surprise, that’s what the “Matrix” vs. “Rings” contest has come down to. Warner Bros. has downgraded its estimate of its five-day worldwide grosses on “The Matrix Revolutions” from $204.1 million to $201.4 million. That would make it king, but stay tuned.

When “The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers” opened in 2002, New Line first said its worldwide gross was $190 million but ultimately revised it to $201.8 million for the first five days. That would make it the box office champ.

Now Warner Bros. gurus are saying, hold your horses, tallies from China and elsewhere are still being calculated and maybe their estimate will go up.

Clear as mud, you say?

Indeed, the situation mimics the plot complexity of the “Matrix” trilogy itself. But it also reflects the murky methodology that lingers into the 21st century in the way studios track international grosses.

For domestic grosses, industry service companies like Nielsen EDI and Rentrak Theatrical are thick in the middle of data collection and ultimately the posting of official records. But no such arbiter operates in most international territories, so studios themselves coordinate data collection and the eventual posting of data for posterity.

So for now, only this much is certain: Domestically, “Revolutions” rung up $83.8 million in domestic B.O., over its first five days, with $48.5 million of that total coming over the weekend.

Foreign grosses for pic’s first five days — originally reported as totaling $118.6 million — by Monday were revised to $117.6 million as a portion of the territorial data began to firm up. But further revisions are likely.

The comparison with “Two Towers” to decide which pic had the biggest worldwide bow now amounts to mere decimal points. So a final victor in that showdown won’t be clear until further foreign data is clarified.

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