'Hancock' going off before the fireworks

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Sony just can't wait to release its big Will Smith starrer "Hancock," so it won't.

About 3,600 of the 3,965 theaters that have booked the superhero action film through the upcoming Independence Day weekend have scheduled "Hancock" showtimes beginning at 7 tonight.

"It's one of those big popcorn-picture wide releases that is going to appeal to every kind of moviegoer," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

But though that broad appeal might make it a no-brainer to unspool "Hancock" at least a couple days in advance of the Friday holiday — letting word-of-mouth spread through the boxoffice weekend — Sony's intent to include the film's Tuesday night grosses in its Wednesday totals is sure to draw criticism. Records are tallied of movie openings of all sorts, including best opening-day performances, and "Hancock" is sure to post a big number Wednesday.

"It will probably get an asterisk," Bruer said.

Midnight screenings are commonly lumped in with next-day grosses, but it's much less common for a studio to do so with earlier showtimes.

"What time does a picture have to open on a Tuesday before it's considered a Tuesday gross?" a rival distribution exec fumed.

"Hancock" already has drawn some brickbats from a more predictable contingent: film critics. Some early reviews have been tough, suggesting that the film's flawed-superhero premise looked better on paper than it does up on the big screen.

Still, "Hancock" appears relatively critic-proof, with $100 million-plus over its first 5 1/2 virtually guaranteed.

Also, Sony execs are hoping the critical reaction will balance out, once all reviews are in.

"You're going to see some very good reviews as well," Bruer said.

Theater owners certainly seem stoked about getting the film.

"The level of interest in 'Hancock' is very high, and advanced ticketing has been strong," said Carlo Petrick, a spokesman for Marcus Theatres, whose 56 locations throughout the Midwest are onboard with Tuesday night showtimes.

"If this were October, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to do this," Petrick said. "But to do it in the middle of the summer, when schools are out and with all the interest in the film, I think it will do very well on Tuesday night."

Marcus is marketing the availability of "Hancock" in one of its Milwaukee theaters in so-called 4K projection — the highest-resolution available in digital exhibition.

Once the weekend rolls around, the question for "Hancock" will be how much heft is left in its bow after the boxoffice cream is scooped off midweek. "Transformers," from DreamWorks/Paramount, opened on a Tuesday, July 3, last year and rung up $70.5 million during the subsequent Friday-Sunday.

Sony has a few different trailers of "Hancock" that it will run as TV spots throughout the week. One of the clips makes the title character's sizable flaws more apparent than in other marketing materials.

"There were various trailers based on different audiences and who we were appealing to," Bruer said. "When you have a pic of this magnitude, you don't have just one."
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