‘Matrix’ mauls B.O. marks

WB sequel outshoots Sony's web-slinger

Warner Bros.’/Village Roadshow’s “The Matrix Reloaded” plugged itself into Hollywood history several times over the weekend.

Chief among such feats was the action sequel posting the best movie opening ever. It used four days to stake that claim plus latenight previews prior to a first full day, but “Reloaded” rang up an unprecedented Thursday-through-Sunday box office of $135.8 million, according to preliminary estimates.

Perf reps the best first four days in release for any film. Sony’s “Spider-Man” unspooled over the first weekend of May 2002, grossing $114.8 million over three days followed by an $11 million Monday.

The “Reloaded” release pattern mimicked the Thursday-Sunday bow of last year’s “Star Wars: Episode 2 –Attack of the Clones.” Like that 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm prequel, “Reloaded” sought to time its first day to the traditional Thursday start in key foreign territories, a helpful tactic in the increasingly bare-knuckles fight to foil pic pirates.

Devours “Hannibal” bow

Once unspooled, “Reloaded” blew away the record for an R-rated bow, besting the $58 million opening of MGM’s “Hannibal” in February 2001.

As Warners distrib boss Dan Fellman observed, “The R rating of the film has obviously had no effect on its opening.”

Release’s first record came in the first full day of B.O., as “Reloaded” rung up $42.5 million on Thursday in the best opening-day perf ever.

Figure included several million dollars in previous night grosses from 10 p.m. Wednesday preview shows, which were lumped into the Thursday tally in keeping with industry practice. “Reloaded” thus surpassed the opening-day perf of “Spider-Man,” which bowed on a Friday with $39.4 million.

“Spidey” still holds the single-day B.O. record, after collecting $43.6 million over its first Saturday. “Reloaded” grossed $31.3 million Friday, $34.4 million Saturday and is estimated to have rung up $27.6 million Sunday.

The Thursday-Saturday haul for “Reloaded” reps the biggest first three days of any Warners release to date, at $108.2 million. Tally tops a previous best of $90.3 million with Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in November 2001.

8,500-plus prints

Forming a foundation for all of the “Reloaded” firsts was a print run of unprecedented girth. Some 8,517 prints were distribbed to 3,603 theaters, some of which showed pic on as many as seven screens in a single venue.

Further, many theaters ran “Reloaded” on two screens using a single print, a practice known as “interlocking.”

“The number of prints that Warner Bros. had plus the ability of theaters to run multiple screens from one print means (‘Reloaded’) was running on about one-fourth of all the screens in the country,” figured Dan Marks, exec veep of B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. “That’s an enormous amount of movie seats — which lent itself to a really enormous gross.”

“Reloaded” grosses amounted to 60% of industrywide B.O. in the U.S. and Canada this weekend.

Pic’s already equaled the five-week cume of 1999’s original “Matrix.” By Tuesday, execs expect “Reloaded” to set a new record for seven-day B.O.

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