Auds trek to ‘Shrek’

Toon expands to record 4,163 playdates

This article was updated at 9:11 p.m.

“Shrek 2” swamped multiplexes and theaters far, far away to gross $11.8 million in its first day of release — a fast start that puts the pic on track to get well past $80 million by Sunday.

Toon sequel bowed in 3,737 locations but will expand to an eye-popping 4,163 playdates on Friday, making it the first film to ever play in more than 4,000 locations.

Pic’s Wednesday opening is the best for an animated feature, topping the $10.1 million “Pokemon” picked up on its first day in November 1999 and the $9.5 million first-day for “Toy Story 2” two weeks later.

DreamWorks distrib prexy Jim Tharp noted that “Shrek 2” was not being released into a long weekend as were those other pics — Veterans Day for “Pokemon” and Thanksgiving for “Toy Story.”

“Both of these pictures were before holidays, which is why I think this is so spectacular,” he said.

Lots of nonfamily biz

According to exit surveys, families made up only 60% of the “Shrek” aud, well under the usual 85% level that most toon features see. That low number, Tharp said, reflected the fact that few schools are out for summer and that some families will wait for the weekend shows.

Of the nonfamily aud, exits showed an even split between males and females as well as ages under 25 and over.

Wednesday openings are unusual for toons. The biggest-grossing animated pic, last summer’s “Finding Nemo” from Pixar and Walt Disney, opened on the Friday after Memorial Day and took in $70.2 million over its first three days.

The “Shrek” opening in 3,737 locations was the second-widest debut, just trailing the “X2” bow (3,741) last year.

But when it expands to 4,163 bookings on Friday, it will topple the widest-ever release record set by “Spider-Man” in 2002, when that pic reached 3,876 theaters in its fourth week.

“It was never about records,” said Tharp. “It was about how do you maximize the box office.”

Worried about ‘Potter’

The studio’s key concern is “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which Warner Bros. will open in two weeks.

“The reason we wanted to take this number of runs is that the summer is very crowded,” Tharp said. “This gives us two weeks before ‘Harry Potter,’ and ‘Potter’ has to be considered very strong in our key demographic.”

DreamWorks wasn’t celebrating the ultrawide release pattern, but by setting an opening benchmark, “Shrek 2” could have the effect of putting pressure on other distribs to up their theater counts as well.

The original “Shrek,” released in 2001, opened with $42.3 million and went on to gross $268 million domestically and $483 million worldwide — a testament to how well it played over time. A rule of thumb in the biz says the wider a picture opens, the quicker it will drop off in the box office.

Tharp acknowledged that risk. “We’re trying to get it before we get hit by what’s really direct competition,” he said.

Other distribs, fearful of “Shrek’s” ability to draw from all four quadrants, skedded no wide openers against the ogre toon.

Facing ‘Troy’

However, Warners’ “Troy” will be in its critical second week. After opening with $46.9 million, pic has been playing relatively strong mid-week, picking up $4.6 million on Monday and $4.2 million on Tuesday. Warners thinks “Troy” will play like 2000’s “Gladiator,” which contended with “Battlefield Earth” in its second week and declined a meager 29%. Though an R-rated pic would not normally be affected by a PG-rated toon, the breadth of “Shrek 2’s” draw could dampen the frame for “Troy.”

In limited releases, IDP bows teen romancer “Stateside” in 156 locations on Friday and Paramount Classics debuts French romantic comedy “Love Me if You Dare” on three screens in Los Angeles and Gotham. Starting on one Gotham screen each this weekend are First Run’s Cambodian genocide doc “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine” and Strand’s Dickens update “Twist.”