‘Matrix’ hits motherlode

Cyber sequel's hyper haul is best-ever 4-day opening

Maybe there were just a lot of Agent Smiths duplicating themselves among auds for “The Matrix Reloaded” this weekend.

Or maybe it was action sequel’s big 3,603 playdates and record 8,517 print run. But the results were clear: The first four days for Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s “The Matrix Reloaded” were nothing short of phenomenal with an estimated $135.8 million in opening box office — $93.3 million of it over the Friday-Sunday sesh.

The Wachowski brothers’ Keanu Reeves starrer rung up more B.O. than any pic in history over the first four days of release, and its weekend haul trailed only the first three days of Sony’s “Spider-Man,” which grossed $114.8 million over the first weekend of May 2002.

Boffo “Reloaded” bow wasn’t enough to avoid another year-over-year downtick in industrywide grosses, however.

Industryites had been expecting “Reloaded” to prove the Key Maker to a rousing early summer. But the weekend was off 6% from the same frame a year earlier at $161 million in total estimated grosses, according to Nielsen EDI data.

Year-to-date B.O. is down a similar percentage after accounting for calendar differences. So second-half releases will loom large, and those include a second “Matrix” sequel — “The Matrix Revolutions,” set to unspool Nov. 7.

Pics felled by “Reloaded” flak this weekend included 20th Century Fox’s “X2: The X-Men United.” Action sequel dropped a big 57% in its third frame with $17.1 million to finish in third place, though cume reached an impressive $174.2 million.

Frame also marked the wide release of Fox’s “Down With Love.” A good-natured spoof of ’50s romancers starring Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger, “Down” finished in fourth place with almost $7.6 million in a counter-programming ploy targeting femmes over the big “Reloaded” weekend.

Estimated cume topped $7.6 million, thanks to “Down” exclu in Gotham last weekend.

Family fare unfazed

At least a couple other top-five finishers appeared relatively unfazed by the “Reloaded” phenom. Sony/Revolution’s Eddie Murphy starrer “Daddy Day Care” dropped just 30% to again finish No. 2 with $19.2 million over its soph sesh. And Disney’s tweens laffer “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” fell just 37% to $4.5 million in fifth place over its third frame.

Meanwhile, “Reloaded” perf may rein in previous conventional wisdom that R-rated pics have restricted pull on moviegoers. Helping “Reloaded” shrug off its rating was parents’ apparent belief pic content is relatively tame despite the R.

Family patronage was high, so even heightened exhib safeguards against unescorted youth viewing pic couldn’t keep “Reloaded” from skewing notably young. Some 50% of patrons were under age 25, with auds 60% comprised of males.

“The audience rated the movie,” “Reloaded” producer Joel Silver said. “They decided it was OK (for kids) to see the movie.”

Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman said a solid marketing campaign also helped overcome the restricted rating. Unusual Thursday bow — boosted by late-night Wednesday previews — turned out happily as well.

“It’s (been) a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on a film that’s become a part of motion picture history,” Fellman enthused.

Pic’s bevy of records included the biggest ever opening-day gross, at $42.5 million. Other daily grosses included $31.3 million Friday, $34.4 million Saturday and an estimated $27.6 million on Sunday.

Competish optimistic

Fox execs are hopeful “X2” will show good market hold over future frames despite its “Reloaded” wounding this weekend. And Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder said there’s reason to believe “Down With Love” can also show ample leg.

“Female movies generally play out over a longer period,” Snyder said. “So playability comes in (and) we’re hopeful that word-of-mouth will carry the day.”

“Down” skewed 68% female, with 67% of patrons age 25 and older.

Among limited bows this weekend, Miramax unspooled kidtooner “Pokemon Heroes” in 196 locations and grossed an estimated $225,000. That repped a wobbly $1,148 per site in a limited theatrical run prior to homevid distribbing.

Lions Gate bowed Ken Loach’s “Sweet Sixteen” in a pair of Gotham theaters and one Detroit venue, grossing an estimated $30,000. Perf repped a tasty $10,000 per site, with “Sixteen” expanding to L.A. on Friday.

And Fox Searchlight opened Euro-laffer “L’Auberge Espagnole” in 11 locations in Gotham, L.A. and San Francisco, grossing $60,369, or a solid $5,488 per site.

‘Train’ tracks

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Paramount Classics expanded French drama “The Man on the Train” by 13 theaters for a total 18 and grossed $102,179, or a sturdy $5,677 per venue with a $161,631 cume.

John Malkovich-helmed “The Dancer Upstairs” from Fox Searchlight added 29 engagements for a total 93 and grossed $279,520, or $3,006 per playdate with an $802,421 cume.

Thinkfilm boosted docu “Spellbound” by a dozen runs for a total 13 and grossed $93,651, an attentive $7,204 per location with a $164,681 cume.

Miramax expanded drama “The Blue Car” by four engagements for a total 12 and grossed $38,000, or $3,167 per playdate with a $133,587 cume.

Sony Classics docu “Winged Migration” expanded by 12 engagements for a total 21, grossing $140,614, a fleet $6,667 per playdate with a $503,778 cume.

And United Artists maintained 17 theaters for its “City of Ghosts” suspenser, grossing $37,000, or $2,151 per venue with a $175,000 cume.

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