Powerful ‘Pokemon’ B.O. punch

Pic may squish 'Bug's' record

Even its biggest fans can’t pinpoint its appeal. Parents can only shrug. And many incredulous critics are throwing brickbats.

Yet the low-budget “Pokemon: The First Movie” already looks like a blockbuster based on a record Wednesday bow and even better numbers Thursday.

Animated pic piled up $10 million on 2,901 screens Wednesday, the best Wednesday of any release in November. Thursday’s tally, with 56% of U.S. kids out of school for Veterans Day, looked to be headed at least 40% to 50% higher based on matinee receipts.

“We’re experiencing history here,” said Dan Fellman, domestic distrib chief at Warner Bros. He stopped short of giving a Thursday estimate, but he said the five-day nonsummer record of $45.7 million set by “A Bug’s Life” last year will probably get squished.

Excluding pics in May, June or July, the best five-day debut was “101 Dalmations” at $45 million in 1996, said ACNielsen EDI.

“In terms of the excitement of kids, it reminds me of the ‘Turtles,’ ” said Mark Pascucci, senior veep of advertising and publicity for Loews Cineplex. He was referring, of course, to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” another toy-pic double threat whose feature film grossed $135.3 million in 1990.

Long-term prospects of the Pokephenomenon are unclear, but eye-opening numbers abounded Thursday:

It’s the biggest Wednesday B.O. total of any animated pic, eclipsing the $6.4 million recorded by “The Lion King” in June 1994.

It’s Warners’ biggest Wednesday, beating the $7.1 million turned in on June 30 by “Wild Wild West.”

The top-grossing U.S. venue Wednesday was the General Cinemas Bay Plaza in New York City, with $24,804 for the entire day. Several locations passed that level by 4 p.m. EST Thursday.

“The suburban theaters did especially well,” said Kurt Hall, prexy and CEO of United Artists Theatre Circuit, one of the top U.S. chains. “I’ve not seen matinee numbers like this ever.”

Based on the response at UA theatres, Hall added: “I think there’s going to be a lot of repeat business.”

For a little perspective, it should be noted that just six months ago “Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace” vacuumed up $28.5 million in its Wednesday bow. And the all-time 5-day records of heavyweights like “The Lost World” and “Independence Day” appear safe.

Yet “Pokemon” faces few serious B.O. contenders this weekend. Today’s other wide-release debuts include Fox’s “Anywhere But Here,” Sony’s “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” and Lions Gate’s “Dogma.”

“Pokemon” widens out today to 3,043 screens.

Fox opened “Light It Up” on 1,219 screens on Wednesday. It grossed $321,580.

Regardless of the exact B.O. take, Pokepic is shaping up to be hugely profitable. Warner Bros. acquired it for just $5 million and then paid only for cosmetics like English dubbing and a soundtrack featuring artists like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and ‘N Sync.

Given those small costs, some execs already have dubbed the pic “the animated ‘Blair Witch.’ ”

The toon race will heat up next Friday, when Disney launches “Toy Story 2” at the El Capitan in Los Angeles before a wide Nov. 24 bow. Miramax already has the toon “Princess Mononoke” in limited release. Sony ushers in the part-animated “Stuart Little” on Dec. 17.

Warner Bros. is giving away one Pokemon trading card with each movie ticket. Supplies ran out in many areas Thursday, prompting per-ticket bids as high as $100 on Internet auction sites, according to the studio.

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