Nuclear energy to 'Watchmen' bow

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However high "Watchmen" grosses can climb, the superhero actioner sure will be playing wide: Its 3,611 playdates are the most ever for an R-rated film.

Further aiding its much-watched bow, the Zack Snyder-helmed comic-book adaptation will play in an impressive 1,600 locations starting at midnight tonight. That's substantially more than the 656 midnight shows that helped Snyder's ancient Greece actioner "300" fetch an incredible $28 million during the first day of its $71 million opening weekend in March 2007.

The first-day haul for "300" was the second-highest ever for an R-rated pic, after the $42.5 million tally that Warners registered with 2003's "The Matrix Reloaded," according to Nielsen EDI. The previous widest release for an R-rated pic was the distributor's 3,603-theater bow for "Reloaded."

Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said "Watchmen" wasn't a tough sell with theater owners.

"The reaction at our exhibitor screenings was terrific, and after the success of '300,' there wasn't an exhibitor in the country who didn't want to play Zack Snyder's next movie," Fellman said.

Warners has been bullish on setting megawide bows for its bigger R-rated titles in recent years. Its "Watchmen" playdates include 124 engagements in Imax giant-screen auditoriums.

"All will have midnight shows, and that's a function of demand," Imax Filmed Entertainment president Greg Foster said. "If there weren't midnight shows, there would be a riot. The demand is very, very strong."

Imax's Web site crashed four times this week because of traffic surges by "Watchmen" fans seeking ticket information, Foster said.

Online ticketer Fandango said Wednesday that "Watchmen" purchases represented 90% of its advance ticket sales for this weekend. No other wide opener is set for the frame. (partialdiff)
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