Studio hitmakers spinning records

Sony, Disney bickering over 'Pirates' numbers

When it comes to box office bragging rights, the wrangling between studios can be downright ferocious.

Sony, for example, went public last week with its displeasure over Disney’s May 29 proclamation that “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” had set a six-day worldwide record of $404 million, insisting that the Mouse House had cheated “Spider-Man 3” out of the title. How?

Sony pointed to the evening of Tuesday, May 22, contending that $1.4 million from preview showings in France and Italy for “Pirates” amounted to another full day, meaning that Spidey’s seven-day launch of $417 million was the actual record.

Disney countered that it’s been standard practice for preview numbers to be folded into the next day’s gross in international markets. “By any measure, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’ clearly and deservedly holds the new record for a six-day opening at the global box office,” it asserts.

Additionally, the Mouse House hadn’t even opened “Pirates 3” in India or China, while Sony’s opening six days included every market in the world, including $12 million from India and China.

It was an odd contretemps, given that Sony and Disney partner in more than a dozen foreign markets. And those not involved in the debate have to admit that it’s impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison anyhow: Spidey’s first six days went from Tuesday through Sunday, but that included $56 million from earlier-than-usual openings overseas; Disney’s first six days went from Wednesday through Monday — an atypical measuring period.

Part of what bothered Sony execs is their belief that claims to records should adhere to a standard — in this case, with international grosses counting only for the conventional Wednesday-Sunday period when films traditionally open.

“It’s a question of being transparent in making comparisons,” notes Mark Zucker, prexy of Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. “In our case, we wanted to make a clean comparison between our first and second weekends of ‘Spider-Man 3’ and its opening compared to ‘The Da Vinci Code.'”

But there’s a bigger question: Why should these records matter so much, especially when the record numbers are often overshadowed by the bickering? The answer, according to studio execs, is that it’s good business.

“There’s nothing better than seeing that your movie is best of all time,” Zucker says, “and it also helps in getting more people to see it.”

One Spidey record stands — its three-day domestic opening of $151 million. “Pirates 3” wound up with $153 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend — but only with $14 million folded in from Thursday night screenings that started at 8 p.m.

It’s certainly not going to be the last time that studios go to the mat over numbers. The debate’s likely to be revisited later this month when Warner Bros. opens “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

Warners has already started moving up the pic’s release dates in several major markets, including bumping up the U.S. bow two days to Wednesday, July 11.

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