Summit plans midweek launch to satiate fans

Ravenous “Twilight” fans are getting a jump on the Fourth of July weekend as Summit’s “Eclipse” rolls out tonight in midnight screenings.

Summit plans to screen the film at late-night showings before opening wide on Wednesday at 4,408 locations, with an additional 29 locations on Friday.

Overseas, the film will launch day and date in 41 territories, including such key markets as Brazil, Italy, Russia and Spain. Most other major territories will open by the end of July.

“Eclipse” — the third installment in the “Twilight” series — marks several firsts for the $1.03 billion worldwide-grossing franchise. Pic is the series’ first mid-week launch, as well its first summer release, and the inaugural “Twilight” pic for large-screen exhib Imax, skedded for 193 engagements.

Summit plans to screen the first two pics “Twilight” and “New Moon” in select cities before the midnight screenings of “Eclipse.”

The distrib had similar screenings of the first film last year, leading into a record-breaking $26.2 million midnight take for “New Moon,” which grossed $142.8 million opening weekend. The franchise’s first installment bowed during the Thanksgiving frame, with “Twilight” debuting to $69.6 million in 2008.

According to online ticketing service Fandango, “Eclipse” accounted for 82% of today’s advanced ticket sales and stands as the year’s top-selling title.

Fandango reported that a recent survey showed 28% of prospective moviegoers planned to bring a date, compared to just 20% for “New Moon” and 11% for “Twilight.”

Summit said it hopes the midweek bow for “Eclipse” will boost attendance among its core aud of young femmes.

With teens on summer vacation, a midweek opening can be more effective than for adult-targeted pics such as last week’s “Knight and Day.”

“We’re looking forward to solid midnight performances, because the next day most everybody is out of school,” said Summit prexy of domestic distribution Richie Fay. “And then a very solid Wednesday, particularly going into a holiday weekend.”

Last year, Paramount’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” opened a week before the holiday on Wednesday, June 24, with a five-day total of $200.1 million, while the first “Transformers” earned $155.4 million during the six-day Fourth of July frame in 2007. Sony’s “Spider-Man 2″ still ranks as the holiday’s top earner with $158.3 million.

Based on the best-selling vampire series by Stephenie Meyer, “Eclipse” follows human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her otherworldly suitors, vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

This time around, “Hard Candy”-helmer David Slade directs from a script by the franchise’s returning scribe Melissa Rosenberg.

The “Twilight” pics have also been massive sellers on DVD — the first pic sold 3.8 units during its initial week of release and a total 9.2 million units in 2009, to become the year’s highest-selling DVD title.

Meanwhile, “New Moon” surpassed its predecessor’s first-week sales, with more than 4 million units sold. “Twilight” has sold 10 million total units to date, while “New Moon” moved 6.9 million.

In anticipation of the “Eclipse” bow, Summit screened the first “Twilight” offerings last weekend in 12 U.S. markets, timed for the lunar eclipse on June 26.

“As we learned with the first two, it’s such an avid fan base that the repeat business is there,” Fay said. “The real question is how quickly do they repeat?”

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