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Spidey’s wide web

Huge rollout augurs well for Sony tentpole

Oh, the web of intrigue.

So high are expectations for Sony’s weekend bow of “Spider-Man,” it’s considered a foregone conclusion the comic-inspired actioner will easily break the $68.1 million frame record set by Universal’s “The Mummy Returns” last year. The big question is by how much.

Exhib support is enormous, with “Spider-Man” unspooling in an amazing 3,615 theaters on a rumored 7,500 screens through double- and triple-booking in some venues. (Distribs confirm only playdates and not print runs.)

Warner Bros.’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – which bowed with a record 3,672 theaters and 8,100 screens in November — set an all-time record for a three-day opening at $90.3 million. Few believe that mark’s in any peril of falling, but almost anything up to that number is conceivable for “Spidey.”

“It will be hard to beat ‘Mummy Returns’ by much,” said one industryite. But after further musings on the subject he added, “I don’t see it doing more than in the low 80s.”

Such an opening would rep a staggering $25 million-$30 million take per day over the opening frame. Only a handful of pics have ever done north of $25 mil on any one day, so it’s small wonder Sony execs are eager to rein in over-enthusiastic “Spidey” projections.

After all, no one wants to become the next “Pearl Harbor.” Pre-release hopes for Disney war epic ran so high that “Harbor” somehow became perceived as an underperformer even while sailing to more than $450 million in worldwide B.O.

“Nobody ever wants to make any predictions in this business that turn success into failure, so I won’t even try,” Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake said. “We’re certainly aware of the fact ‘The Mummy Returns’ threw off one of the biggest openings ever on the same date last year, and we’d like to be in that ball park or better.”

Regardless of how high such market penetration allows “Spidey” B.O. to creep, it appears studio is positioned to reap ample benefits from finally delivering a movie based on the iconic comicbook hero. For more than a decade, studios have fought legal and logistical battles over rights to the Marvel Comics property.

The contest to claim movie rights to the comic character was complicated by Marvel Entertainment’s contentious bankruptcy proceedings and related boardroom warfare. That soap opera eventually turned off wannabe “Spider-Man” helmer James Cameron, who had penned a detailed “Spidey” script treatment and mentioned Leonardo DiCaprio as a possible topliner.

After such an arduous development arc, “Spidey” fan base appears heartened that early word from crix is Sony’s delivered a pic reasonably viable creatively as well as commercially. In an interesting twist, early swipes at Tobey Maguire’s casting in the title role have morphed into kudos for his mild-mannered take on the character.

The sole potential drag on pic’s ultimate B.O. is its PG-13 rating, based on a couple of action scenes perhaps a tad violent for the youngest “Spider-Man” wanna-sees.

Meanwhile, a couple other wide releases will try to peck at “Spidey” table scraps this weekend.

DreamWorks unspools Woody Allen’s “Hollywood Ending” in a barely wide 765 theaters Friday. Most observers figure romancer, which targets older femmes, will woo B.O. in the low single-digit millions.

“It’s counterprogramming,” DreamWorks distrib topper Jim Tharp said. “We think we’ll certainly attract a different kind of audience than ‘Spider-Man.’ ”

Tharp added distrib hopes bow will prove only the beginning for “Ending.” “There are not a lot of movies that will compete with our core audience over the next few weeks,” Tharp reasoned.

MGM’s “Deuces Wild ” — a tough-neighborhood drama prominently featuring Matt Dillon in a young ensemble cast — targets male and female young adults, but “we’re not trying to compete with ‘Spider-Man,’ ” studio marketing and distrib prexy Bob Levin stressed.

Modestly budgeted pic has been moved around distrib’s release calendar a couple times before landing in its present slot. “We have modest expectations, but we expect to make money on the film,” Levin said.

“Deuces,” which appears headed for a bow in the mid single-digital millions, deals to 1,480 theaters on Friday.

A handful of specialty pics will see limited openings this weekend. Among them: Thinkfilm’s Ismael Merchant-helmed “The Mystic Masseur,” IFC Films’ laffer “The Chateau” and NewYorker docu “ABC Africa.”