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Tentpoles may not go wider than Spidey

Summer slate set for a wide, wild ride

In Hollywood’s ongoing quest for bigger blockbuster openings, just how wide can a summer pic go?

After “Spider-Man 3” cracked the record for widest release of all time by swinging into 4,252 theaters in its opening weekend, it might follow that an onslaught of summer sequels — including third installments of the “Shrek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises — would try to top that number.

Since Spidey was the first of the summer tentpoles to hit the multiplexes, however, there won’t be as many screens for newer films to occupy.

B.O. records may still fall this summer, but that widest-ever mark probably will hold up until next year, when another tentpole stakes out an early May kickoff.

“Being the first pic out gave Sony carte blanche,” said one studio distribution head. “I don’t think it’s possible now for anyone to go as wide. They won’t be able to do it.”

Instead, Paramount/DreamWorks’ “Shrek the Third” and Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” will likely wind up in more than 4,000 theaters domestically but won’t approach the webslinger’s location count.

“They had a unique place, and the good news for (Sony) was that there was no movie doing more than $10 million” when the pic came into the market, said Rob Moore, Paramount prexy of worldwide marketing, distribution and operations. “So every theater was fighting to get ‘Spider-Man 3,’ and to accommodate as many prints as they could.”

Still, Sony’s rivals are applauding Spidey’s latest success, saying that any time a big B.O. season kicks off with a mammoth hit, it typically helps lift the turnout for other titles. Studios also were riding “Spider-Man 3” to get leverage on their own pics: Par played trailers for “Shrek the Third” before “Spider-Man 3” reels. The studio will place attractions for “Transformers” before its own “Shrek” as well as Disney’s latest “Pirates.”

“All these three movies (‘Spider-Man,’ ‘Shrek’ and ‘Pirates’) will wind up in a similar location count, at over 4,000,” said another studio exec.

Theater counts can change marginally up to the last minute as exhibs gauge what’s working on their screens, but a movie’s release plan usually varies by only 100-200 prints as its release date looms.

“We had very good opportunities in different ways (by opening first),” said Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer. It’s certainly possible, he said, that a pic could open wider this summer, “but it wouldn’t be easy. It’s amazing when a film is (so highly anticipated) that theaters seem to make room. They find a way to maximize.”

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