‘Matrix’ faces fish competish

Shark or flounder, it's a whopper for Pixar

See chartIn what is shaping up as summer’s first box office free-for-all, Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” leads the new release charge against holdovers “Bruce Almighty” and “The Matrix Reloaded.”

Paramount counter-programs with its remake of “The Italian Job,” which it hopes will be this year’s “Bourne Identity.” Stylish suspenser bowed decently last June, then legged it out to an impressive $120 million domestically.

With 2,633 locations, “Job” hardly looks like a B.O. monster. But the Mark Wahlberg starrer is tracking to open at least north of $20 million.

“I think we have a film with tremendous playability,” Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen said. “Initially, we have a picture that’s attracting a somewhat older audience.”

Pre-release tracking also shows more men than women rate “Job” a first choice for weekend moviegoing.

Also this weekend, 20th Century Fox launches low-budget slasher pic “Wrong Turn,” produced by effects guru Stan Winston.

Amid all of the new offerings, many eyes will still be on “Reloaded” as it tries to regain its market composure after a nasty tumble last weekend.

The combined effect of the big new openers and another strong frame for “Bruce” could see “Reloaded” struggle again after dropping a big 60% last weekend from its opening frame. That would be an embarrassing comeuppance after mega-hyped sequel’s record May 15 bow and unprecedented first-week B.O.

Impossible pace

“The drop was expected based on the huge first week,” Warners distrib boss Dan Fellman said. “You can’t sustain a pace like that. It’s just impossible.”

Patrons rated pic strongly in exit surveys conducted over pic’s opening frame, which bodes well for longer-term playability, Fellman said. But other industryites say anecdotal evidence of how patrons are reacting to the pic since its opening weekend has been mixed, and repeat patronage will bear watching.

Mouse House execs will be delirious if “Nemo” can hook anywhere near as much opening loot as the underwater laffer’s immediate predecessor in a string of computer-animation collaborations with Pixar. “Monsters, Inc.,” which bowed in early November 2001, rung up an impressive $62.6 million over its first weekend, the biggest inaugural haul of any Disney-Pixar pic.

SWIMMING IN SUMMER
Friday’s opening for “Nemo,” distributed by Disney, breaks Pixar’s pattern of opening its films around Thanksgiving. That holiday has proved increasingly lucrative over the years.
NOVEMBER OPENERS
Monsters, Inc.
(’01)
$63 million
Toy Story 2
(’99)
$57 million
A Bug’s Life
(’98)
$33 million
Toy Story
(’95)
$29 million

Playing the slot

But some believe its summer slot may work against “Nemo.”

Set for 3,374 engagements, “Nemo” reps the first Disney/Pixar release outside of November. Partners’ previous toons were slotted to exploit Mouse’s longstanding success through the family-friendly Thanksgiving period.

A summer “Nemo” slotting may make it tough to ring up the kind of revenue enjoyed over a post-holiday weekend. But it could increase pic’s longevity, as vacation season will make its prospective family patrons available for weeks to come.

This past November, Disney released traditional toon “Treasure Planet” to a dismal $12.1 million first weekend. “Nemo” wasn’t completed yet back then, and there was little reason to hold the Pixar pic until the coming November, when Mouse unspools toon “Brother Bear” and Eddie Murphy live-actioner “The Haunted Mansion.”

(Disney will revert to form with the next Pixar co-production. “The Incredibles” just set a release date of Nov. 5, 2004.)

Big behemoths

Should opening B.O. for “Nemo” approach even the $57.4 million first wide weekend for 1999’s “Toy Story 2,” it would easly outpace the second weekend for “Bruce.” Jim Carrey starrer would see about $34 million on a 50% drop from its opening Friday-Sunday grosses.

A soph-sesh decline of at least that much is the norm for pics released in 3,000 theaters or more. Such drops are partly the result of audience burn and partly due to pressure from bowing competish in tentpole season.

“It seems that every weekend this summer there will be a big behemoth to come along as the new kid on the block,” one industryite noted.

Spidey’s still safe

Fox’s “Wrong Turn” was a New Regency pickup and figures to bow more modestly than frame’s other openers. Produced by creatures maven Stan Winston and directed by Rob Schmidt (“Crime and Punishment in Suburbia”), “Turn” has 1,615 playdates.

Meanwhile, it’s already clear “Reloaded” won’t manage a domestic run of “Spider-Man” proportions. R-rated “Reloaded,” which rung up record first-week B.O., copped only a silver medal in getting to $200 million in 11 days compared to nine for Sony’s “Spidey.”

PG13-rated “Spidey” went on to gross an amazing $403.7 million in the fifth-best domestic perf ever. Warners estimates “Reloaded” is on track to gross about $300 million.

That would mean the sci fi-laced actioner will continue to take in substantial coin, of course. Combined with the new pics and other strong holdovers, that could help extend last weekend’s strong industrywide perf when the four-day weekend produced a record $202 million in total grosses.

“It look for another strong weekend,” said Dan Marks, exec VP at B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. “I expect the market to expand.”

‘Prozac’ pushed

A crowded market will offer moviegoers a surfeit of options and thus stoke overall market momentum, Marks suggested. There will be one less pic bowing next weekend than previously planned, however.

Miramax has bumped lit-adaptation “Prozac Nation,” toplined by Christina Ricci and Jessica Lange, from June 6 to the fourth quarter. That leaves U’s action sequel “2 Fast 2 Furious” as frame’s only wide opener.

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