Day-and-date code is getting harder to crack

When released globally over the May 19 weekend, “The Da Vinci Code” will represent the biggest test yet of Hollywood’s day-and-date tentpole release strategy.

But the uneven results from the recent worldwide launch of Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible III” suggests that auds aren’t necessarily seduced by global media blitzes.

Though “Mission” posted a worldwide $118 million opening, enthusiasm varied for the Tom Cruise sequel. Pic’s hot in Asia, where South Koreans contributed $10.6 million to the tally, but results ranged from the so-so in the U.S. and U.K. to the downright disappointing in Germany at $2.7 million.

After scoring slightly below-par in Britain with “MI3,” local exhibs are hoping for big things from “Da Vinci Code” when it opens there May 18.

“We feel something has to emerge to kick-start summer,” one local exhib exec said Wednesday.

Exhibs understand, however, that “Da Vinci” is a serious drama — far from the usual summer actioner.

Bookers believe some territory-specific factors may help it overperform in Blighty.

Attention on the film — including opposition from Catholics, a court fight over the underlying novel and even scrutiny of the pic’s score — has been running high.

The dark and frantic trailer causes a hush of excitement among cinema auds in Britain, and bookshops still have Dan Brown’s book displayed prominently. The endless unofficial guides to the book and other spinoff titles are selling like hot cakes.

The plagiarism suit in London against “Da Vinci Code” author Brown, who was eventually exonerated, drew tons of press attention.

And, as another exhibitor explained, “Sun-starved Brits will have grown a little more accustomed to the warmer rays by May 19.”

The “MI3″ opening was dented by warm Thursday-Saturday weather.

Bookers applaud Sony’s bullish marketing campaign for “The Da Vinci Code,” noting that the decision to showcase the whole cast on the poster — not just Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou — is well judged given the popularity of Brits Paul Bettany and Ian McKellen.

A final Blighty cume of $45 million-$55 million is projected. A remaining uncertainty, however, is the effect on the box office from strong opposition to the film from U.K. Catholics, following similar responses in countries from Italy to the Philippines.

The Da Vinci Code Response Group has condemned Brown’s book as “fiction trading as fact” but are wary of overreacting to the pic and looking like they are engaging in a cover-up. With this in mind, no condemnations, boycotts or protests have been planned for the U.K.

While acknowledging that the film is “fun and harmless so far as it is treated as fiction,” the group said in a release, “We are also exasperated that many people without a good understanding of the Catholic Church and its history have been understandably deceived by Dan Brown’s claim that ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is based on facts and respectable theories.”

The U.K. branch of Opus Dei has taken a slightly sterner stance.

The conservative Catholic group has organized special information evenings in London for the public and reports receiving more than 200 emails a day from inquisitive members of the public whose interest in Opus Dei has been pricked by “Da Vinci.” Opus Dei requested Sony Pictures include a caption explaining the film is fiction, which director Ron Howard rejected. “Code’s” booming soundtrack rather than the bloody visuals — as is more commonly the case — did cause the pic some classification problems in Blighty.

Sony requested a 12A certificate from the British Board of Film Classification, but the censors voiced concerns that the musical score was too intense for young children and its sound levels accentuate the violence.

Sony agreed to moderate the audio content — including toning down the fight scenes’ crunch factor — to get the all-important 12A and ensure families don’t give up a visit because the youngest child would be left eating popcorn in the foyer.

It may be too much to ask of a tentpole to perform at the same level everywhere. But, as “MI3″ is proving, a boffo perf in one territory can make up for bombs in others.

“Mission” has remained at less than blockbuster status domestically, reaching $54.4 million in its first five days, while flexing much more muscle in foreign markets — with an $83.1 million overseas cume so far.

Pic’s weekday domestic grosses — a 72% drop from Sunday to $3.5 million on Monday, then $3.2 million on Tuesday — are not far out of line for summer titles released in May.

While the first weekend in May has become the established starting line for Hollywood’s summer season, most kids are still in school and fewer adults are on vacation than in the heart of the season between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Rob Moore, Par prexy of marketing, distribution and operations, told Daily Variety that the weekday perfs were in line with studio expectations. He cited historical performance by similar pics in the same time frame and predicted that “MI3″ will show significant traction in coming weeks.

“At this point, we’re optimistic about how we are doing going into the second weekend,” Moore added. “And we’re looking particularly strong in overseas markets since there’s so little competition.”

“MI3″ will face off Friday with Warner’s “Poseidon” domestically, with rival distribs expecting “MI3″ to prevail. “Poseidon” is moored mostly in drydock in foreign markets, opening only in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

“MI3″ added $13 million overseas on Monday and Tuesday, with the best cumes so far coming from South Korea ($12.2 million), the U.K. ($11.4 million), France ($7.6 million) and Spain ($4 million). Australia, Russia and Italy all have $3.6 million each, outdistancing a dismal run so far in Germany at $3.4 million.

Weak weekdays in early May is one reason that studios sked pics that are going to do a lot of family biz — like DreamWorks’ “Over the Hedge” and Pixar’s “Cars” — later in the summer.

“Mission’s” Sunday-to-Monday domestic drop was 72%, but that’s not much different from other titles released in early May.

Last year, for example, 20th Century Fox’s “Kingdom of Heaven” saw grosses fall 67% on its first Monday. In 2004, Universal’s “Van Helsing,” which was also launched the first weekend of the month, saw ticket sales drop 69% on its first weekday, from a $12.6 million Sunday to a $3.9 million Monday.

Even “Spider-Man” saw a big dropoff on Monday four years ago, although it still grossed $11 million that day.

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