Distribs race toward more day-and-date releases

May represented a clear referendum on the wisdom of global day-and-date releases with coordinated worldwide promo campaigns.

And the verdict would have to be day-and-date is the way to go. Opening weekends for the three tentpoles — “Mission: Impossible III,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” — totaled a combined $300 million.

“MI3″ performed in line with expectations with $70 million; “Code” set a record with $154.8 million and then followed with $91 million; and “X-Men” managed $76 million despite competition from “Code” and not opening in Japan or South Korea.

For Sony, the decision was a no-brainer, given the popularity of Dan Brown’s novel and Tom Hanks’ star power. Even negative reviews at Cannes — site of the pic’s world preem — had no apparent impact.

“Going day-and-date depends on the property, but in this case, there was no reason to wait,” says SPRI distrib president Mark Zucker. The exec noted that the “Code” cast trip on the Eurostar train to Cannes for the premiere wound up generating even more positive buzz.

Clash of the titans

“Code” also opened on over 12,200 playdates, while “MI3″ wasn’t nearly as wide with about 7,300 and “X-Men” took the middle ground with 8,500. Craig Dehmel, Fox Intl.’s VP of sales & strategic planning, admits it was a bit troubling to jump in during the last weekend in May with two tentpoles already playing.

“We have a strong franchise that’s a known quantity, but it really was nerve-wracking to get enough screens with those two films out there,” Dehmel says. “And since ‘Mission: Impossible III’ wasn’t doing spectacular business, it didn’t turn out to be a huge problem.”

Fox also used a one-time day-and-date gimmick of opening “The Omen” on June 6 — a Tuesday — in order to take advantage of the “6-6-06″ promotional stunt.

But 2006 represented an oddball period for the concept of day-and-dating due to soccer’s World Cup. It precluded a pair of films — “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “Superman Returns” — from using the tactic. Instead, both distribs decided to wait until after the soccer madness dies down to open in many key markets.

Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner’s prez of international distribution, admits that “Superman Returns” would have been an obvious candidate for day-and-dating if not for the World Cup.

Game plan

“As it is, we’ve positioned it as the first big movie as the World Cup’s ending,” she added. “But if there hadn’t been a World Cup, we probably would not have done the same scale of day-and-date that ‘Da Vinci’ did. Every film’s different.”

And day-and-date still isn’t the be-all and end-all in foreign distribution. Family-friendly pics like “Over the Hedge,” “Ice Age: The Meltdown” and “Cars” wind up with staggered release patterns to better coincide with holidays in specific markets along with using lessons learned to make adjustments in marketing once a pic’s opened in the U.S.

Additionally, “Cars” faced a unique challenge. It opened on a prime U.S. date — June 9 — but faced the daunting task of going up against the World Cup and opted for a gradual international release, allowing BVI to tweak its marketing and trumpet its performance in the U.S. market.

“In this case, we would have faced a huge distraction from the World Cup had we gone day-and-date with ‘Cars,’” explains BVI president Mark Zoradi. “It would have been more expensive and we would not have had the benefit in international markets of being able to work off a U.S. opening.”

Zoradi refers back to 1995′s “Die Hard 3″ as an example of the validity of going day-and-date as it was a well-known sequel property and starred the instantly recognizable Bruce Willis. Those are essentially the same reasons why BVI’s going day-and-date May 25, 2007, for the third “Pirates of Carribean” and plans to make that announcement via its show reel at Cinema Expo.

The need for speed in getting releases into foreign markets will be a key topic when U.S. majors arrive in Cinema Expo. Distribs are wrestling with a more demanding set of marketing and distribution challenges — particularly worldwide piracy — as they lean more on day and date releases and squeezing theatrical windows.

“Piracy was a big motivator for us to go day-and-date,” Dehmel admits. “”Our film plays best to those who know how to download pirated discs. So it may have not been optimal in some markets to go day-and-date but we were still very motivated to do so.”

Growing fears about piracy have led to a rise in day-and-date releases in English-language and Asian markets this year — such as “Poseidon” going day-and-date in half a dozen Asian markets.

Already this year, “V for Vendetta, “Date Movie,” “Silent Hill,” “American Dreamz,” “Scary Movie 4,” “Underworld: Evolution,” “Final Destination 3″ and “Big Momma’s House 2″ opened concurrently in some or all of the major English-language markets of Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. VP Jay Sands points out that the Australian market is particularly attractive for day-and-date for two other reasons: Marketing costs are relatively inexpensive and moviegoing patterns are fairly predictable, particularly on horror, sequels and broad comedies.

“Australia really is the 51st state,” says Sands.

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