‘Matrix 2’ is reloading record books

Pic's Wednesday night haul estimated at over $10 mil

“The Matrix Reloaded” appears to be a true monster — and not of the “Godzilla” variety.

Warner Bros.’ megahyped action sequel bowed to record grosses in latenight Wednesday showtimes prior to its formal opening Thursday, and first-day matinees were ringing up what execs called unprecedented numbers despite pic’s R rating. Early perf made it clear there’s virtually zero chance that “Reloaded” will fail to match pic’s enormous pre-release expectations in its opening frame.

“It’s become an event. The numbers I’m looking (at) on an hourly basis — nobody has seen anything like it before,” Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman said. “The film is really a cultural phenomenon.”

In keeping with usual practice, Warners won’t formally report separate figures for its Wednesday night box office but instead will add those grosses into its Thursday totals. However, industryites do track such first-night perfs, and a well-placed source said it’s clear “Reloaded” has blown away the previous high mark.

The original “Jurassic Park” rang up $3.1 million in first-night B.O., and no pic has matched that 1993 perf until now. It’s believed “Reloaded” rang up well more than $10 million from Wednesday night grosses alone.

“I can’t remember anytime in modern history where we’ve seen such a demand for a Wednesday late show,” said Nora Dashwood, chief operating officer at Pacific Theaters.

The L.A.-based circuit opened a new multiplex in Culver City on Wednesday night with “The Matrix Reloaded” playing on five screens.

The last big pic to bow on a Thursday was last May’s “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” which grossed $30.1 million over its first day, including night-before totals. “Clones” then dipped about 19% in its Friday grosses and went on to tally $80 million Friday through Sunday for a four-day haul of $110.1 million.

“Reloaded” now appears highly capable of beating that perf, so industryites will be watching for whether the rest of its weekend B.O. will be so strong that it can wrest even the Friday-Sunday opening crown from current B.O. champ “Spider-Man.” It’s possible “Reloaded” will do so much biz prior to Friday that besting Sony pic’s historic three-day weekend perf of $114.8 million will prove just beyond reach.

“Reloaded” bowed Wednesday night in 2,750 theaters and added another 853 Thursday; multiple-screening in many venues has produced a record screen count of 8,517. Such super-saturation play, combined with the advance-ticketing capabilities of Internet and telephone services such as AOL MovieFone, Fandango and others, packs a newly potent opening punch these days.

Fandango issued a press release Thursday boasting the service was “selling three tickets per second” for various “Reloaded” showtimes, outpacing any previous advance-ticketing activity in the company’s history. First-day frenzy included Pasadena-based Netco Overture partially shutting down early Thursday to allow employees to hit movie theaters.

Even under-age patrons numbered prominently among first-day patrons, as parents accompanied youngsters unable to get past theater security to view the restricted movie on their own. In fact, early indications were that the pic would play heavily in virtually all audience demos — as a pic now widely expected to gross $125 million-$150 million over four days would certainly need to meet those projections.

“The predominant group is 17 to 25, with males dominating,” said AMC Entertainment spokesman Rick King, who described the early interest as intense but orderly.

“Lines started forming at midafternoon for the 10 p.m. show on Wednesday,” King said. AMC, like some other exhibs, brought in extra ushers and security personnel to perform age-identification checks of younger patrons.

The boffo early grosses were welcome news at Warners, where execs only had to recall the disappointing bow of Sony sci-fier “Godzilla” — $55.7 million over 1998’s four-day Memorial Day frame — to keep from assuming too much ahead of time. Pre-release tracking had pointed to a gigundo opening sesh, but nothing’s ever considered certain in film releasing until the money’s in the theater cash drawers.

“The early box office numbers are showing the interest in this picture was absolutely there,” Dan Marks, exec veep at B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI, said Thursday. “The marketing has found its audience, and they’re showing up early.”

Helping to fuel the movie excitement was the simultaneous releases of a vidgame, “Enter the Matrix.”

Atari recently shipped 4 million units of the vidgame for play on Sony’s PlayStation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo GameCube gaming consoles. Game went on sale Thursday, and by midday had become the second-most-popular item sold for the day on e-tailer Amazon.com.

(Marc Graser and Travis Smith contributed to this report.)

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