Massive ‘Matrix’

Warner bows sequel with record print run

Some 3,603 theaters are locked and loaded with a record 8,517 prints of Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix Reloaded,” set to open May 14 with a fusillade of 10 p.m. showtimes in 2,750 of those venues.

Playdate count is the highest ever for an R-rated pic and trails only the record 3,741-theater launch of 20th Century Fox’s “X2: X-Men United,” which enters its third weekend with a print run just under 8,000. The “Matrix Reloaded” screen count outpaces even last December’s then-record 8,515-print run for Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Meanwhile, “Matrix Reloaded” is expected to sell out most evening showtimes, but the real question is whether action sequel’s restricted rating will keep matinees from producing the highest-possible grosses.

“If I had to bet, I’d say it will be packing them in all day,” Warners domestic distribution prexy Dan Fellman said.

Indeed, industryites note that so many parents have become familiar with franchise original “The Matrix” on homevid that they may be more apt than usual to accompany underage teens to the hugely anticipated sequel.

With Thursday’s first full day of showtimes followed by opening weekend, “Reloaded” is mimicking 20th Century Fox’s Thursday-through-Sunday bow of “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” last May.

The second PG-13-rated prequel to the classic George Lucas sci-fi action series, “Clones” followed a $31.3 million Thursday with an $80 million first weekend. That four-day haul is exceeded in the record books only by Sony’s $114.8 million opening of “Spider-Man” over a three-day frame last May.

Universal’s “Hannibal” holds the current record for the best opening for an R-rated pic: Horror sequel scared up $58 million over its three-day first sesh in February 2001.

Aiming high

Warners’ franchise original “The Matrix” staged a $27.8 million opening in March 1999 en route to a $171.4 million domestic run. Sequel aims to do much better — if only because of this Warners/Village Roadshow production’s higher costs, reportedly running $150 million apiece for “Reloaded” and the November-skedded third installment, “The Matrix Revolutions.”

Tracking has been phenomenal on “Matrix Reloaded.” But there’s so little historical precedent for a pic bowing so wide — and an R-rated pic to boot — that execs are understandably queasy about translating audience awareness into presumed B.O.

“Matrix Reloaded” also debuts in many foreign territories beginning Thursday. Warners will add some three dozen Imax theaters to domestic and international playdates beginning June 6, and a simultaneous bow in Imax format is planned for “Matrix Revolutions.”

There are no digital-projection sites in Warner’s distribution mix on “Matrix Reloaded,” however. Helmers Andy and Larry Wachowski “were extremely busy in finishing the movie, and they just didn’t have the time to devote to the (digital) transfer,” Fellman said.

Imax-format engagements are an attempt to “do something special” in the absence of digital distribution, he added.

Lots of ‘Love’

Fox’s Ewan McGregor/Renee Zellweger starrer “Down with Love” also goes wide this weekend, with about 2,000 playdates beginning Friday.

Retro romancer did solid biz in a single Gotham location last weekend. “Down” exclu rang up an impressive $45,029 over its first three days and will be looking to tap femme demos in a counterprogramming ploy amid the “Matrix” mania.

“We’re hopeful,” Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder said. “It’s been a while since there’s been an adult-female-oriented movie in the market, so we should get a lot of women.”

Also this weekend, Miramax plans a limited opening for kids tooner “Pokemon Heroes.” The latest installment in the well-known anime franchise unspools in about 200 locations.

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