First summer forecast: hot, sticky

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by Sam Raimi grabbed $29.2 million in 16 overseas markets from Asia to Europe during its first day of international release, representing an 86% increase compared with "Spider-Man 2's" launch in the same territories and a whopping 175% better than the numbers posted by the original "Spider-Man" in the same markets.

Of course, no one is predicting that "Spidey 3" will make such a prodigious leap over "Spidey 2's" $88.4 million bow in 2004 — that film opened on a Wednesday, siphoning some of the pent-up demand from its first weekend — or even the original's then-record three-day opening-weekend gross of $114.8 million in 2002.

The first "Spider-Man" held the opening-weekend record until last summer, when "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" cruised past it and posted a $135.6 million bow. Now, since film openings have become such a competitive sport, there are sure to be those who proclaim "Spidey 3" a disappointment if it doesn't top the "Pirates" sequel.

That remains a tall order. For one thing, "Dead Man's Chest" opened on a Friday in July, while "Spidey 3" has selected a Friday in May when not everybody will be free to rush the multiplex for the movie's opening day.

On the other hand, the third "Spider-Man" has several factors working in its favor. At the moment, the movie is set to open in 4,252 theaters, a record for a North American opening. The previous record holder was DreamWorks' "Shrek 2," which was introduced in 4,163 theaters in 2004, grossing $108 million during its first Friday-Sunday. ("Shrek 2" actually opened on a Wednesday, which had the effect of diluting its weekend gross.)

Further bolstering its drawing power, "Spidey 3" could have more than 10,000 prints at work in those locations, another record. Facilitating the first-day rush, a lot of theaters — possibly as many as 3,000 — were expected to raise the curtain with midnight screenings Thursday, and to make sure all those sales qualify for today's gross numbers, screenings were supposed to start no earlier than 12:01 a.m. Some theaters, like the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, will even play "Spidey 3" around the clock for its first 24 hours.

Another advantage "Spidey 3" enjoys is that it also is set to open in a record number of Imax theaters: 118 big-screen theaters worldwide, 84 of those in North America. That will bring in some added coin.

Sony execs insist that they will be happy if "Spidey 3" splits the difference, opening somewhere between the first film's $114.8 million and second film's $88.4 million. But, with the movie achieving near total audience awareness and showing strength in all four audience quadrants, a lot of other folks will be looking for the new movie to top $114.8 million and are wagering on whether it can topple "Dead Man's Chest's" $135.6 million.

The other wide-release film in the market won't offer much in the way of competition. Warner Bros. Pictures is tossing out a quixotic bit of counterprogramming in the Las Vegas-set romantic drama "Lucky You," starring Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore. Barrymore's recent romantic comedy, "Music and Lyrics," opened to $13.6 million, but the PG-13 "Lucky" — directed by Curtis Hanson from a screenplay by Hanson and Eric Roth — is expected to deal itself a hand somewhere below the $10 million mark. For one thing, "Spidey 3," which includes the ongoing love story between Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson, will woo away some of the romantics who might otherwise have considered "Lucky," which appears destined to place a distant second.

On the exclusive front, Fox Searchlight opened "Waitress" in four theaters Wednesday. Directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, who was killed last year in New York, the PG-13 indie starring Keri Russell as an unhappily married waitress was warmly received at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered in January.
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