This article was updated at 9:34 p.m.
Distrib execs throughout the industry spent Wednesday ogling the box office returns of Sony’s “Spider-Man 2” as they poured in from the 4,152 theaters unspooling the film.
Sony kept a lid on any official results, waiting to issue a number this morning.
Strong matinee sales, reports of sellouts and lofty hourly figures reported by Rentrak and Nielsen EDI signaled that “Spider-Man 2” is headed to the record books as one of Hollywood’s biggest openers.
Exactly which records fall remains to be seen.
Best Wednesday ever was recorded in December by “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which grossed $34.5 million on its first day.
Biggest first day ever belongs to “The Matrix Reloaded,” which bowed on a Thursday to $42.5 million.
Best Friday record is held by the original “Spider-Man,” which opened to a stunning $39.4 million.
Best single-day record was set earlier this summer when “Shrek 2” posted a result of $44.8 million on a Saturday, the pic’s fourth day of release.
Whatever happens, “Spider-Man 2” will give the U.S. box office a much-needed shot in the arm this weekend.
Through last weekend, Nielsen EDI reported the current year’s take at $4.34 billion, 5% ahead of 2003 through the same period when overall box stood at $4.143 billion.
But much of the rosy glow in those figures is due to “The Passion of the Christ,” which Mel Gibson self-released with his Icon Prods. and indie distrib Newmarket Films. Jesus pic grossed $370.2 million.
Now, another Hollywood castaway is doing boffo biz, as “Fahrenheit 9/11” opened to $23.9 million this past weekend. Cume for Michael Moore’s controversial docbuster should climb quickly with an expansion this weekend.
Without the two pics the major studios rejected, the year’s domestic box office would stand at $3.946 billion, 4.8% behind 2003.
Lions Gate and IFC plan an aggressive expansion of “Fahrenheit,” widening the doc to 1,184 theaters Wednesday and then to 1,710 Friday.
Much of that expansion is at commercial theaters in smaller markets. Lions Gate prexy Tom Ortenberg said the upcoming weekend would be a real test of how the pic, which posted a $27,558 average per venue last weekend, plays in a fully nationwide release pattern.
The original 868 theaters, Ortenberg said, “were more concentrated in the bigger cities. Big cities tend to have bigger screen averages than smaller towns for all kinds of films.”
“Fahrenheit” led the box office Monday and Tuesday. It grossed $4.5 million Monday and $3.8 million Tuesday, bringing cume to $32.3 million.
Ortenberg said he expected “Spider-Man 2,” which will play to about as broad an aud as possible, to impact “9/11” — the same way it is expected to grab biz from other pictures.
“I think history will show that our holdover theaters will be most affected on Thursday and Friday,” he said. “We’ll be affected like everyone will be affected.”
He added of “Fahrenheit,” “This is a big, badass commercial movie.”
While “Fahrenheit” will be adding some engagements in its current markets, distribs are expanding into some new ones. To launch the pic, they plan to widen the marketing efforts.
IFC topper Jonathan Sehring said the total P&A spend for “Fahrenheit” was still under $10 million, but by July 9, when a further expansion is planned, more than that will have been spent.
Sehring said plenty of free media is amplifying the paid blurbs. “This movie is sort of a juggernaut in drumming up publicity and word of mouth like nothing I’ve ever seen. With this movie, people just want to talk about it and write about it.”
The TV campaign also is being expanded to target new demos. “Our initial target was young males in addition to news and upscale programming,” he said. For example, one of the primary national buys had been on cabler Comedy Central.
In order to market to more women, ads on Lifetime and Women’s Entertainment, which shares corporate ownership with IFC, will be added. Sehring said “a dramatic number of women” turned out to see the film last weekend.
Separately, new spots are planned for “Fahrenheit” that will feature interviews with filmgoers from opening weekend talking about how they were affected by the film.
Spots were still being approved Wednesday and are expected to be on the air by the weekend.
Earlier this week, the Motion Picture Assn. of America ruled that distribs could not use critic Richard Roeper’s quote “Everyone should see this film” because the pic is rated R.