in focus


The numbers may be accurate, but …

As anyone in the movie business knows, a lot of spinning takes place — especially when reporting boxoffice figures that promote a hit or downplay a failure.

The traditional hurrah that trumpets a hit caused some verbal fisticuffs recently when Sony and Disney squared off after the international bows of "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

Sony said "Spidey 3" set a new six-day opening record in the foreign market after it opened the film on a Tuesday in 18 key markets simultaneous with the conventional Wednesday-to-Saturday weekend bows.

Disney's I-can-do-it-better-than-you comeback claimed that "Pirates 3" surpassed that record when it issued a six-day tally that included Monday results following the weekend debuts.

Sony cried foul, contending that Disney's six-day claim was actually for seven days since it included Tuesday previews in a number of countries and that it did not really constitute an opening weekend with the addition of results from the Monday following the weekend.

The Sony-Disney spat was atypical; member companies of the Motion Picture Association of America seldom wash their linen in public. Buena Vista International, the Disney foreign distribution unit, did not respond publicly to a Sony corporate spokesman's "gotcha" to the press. BVI did not wait long, however, before it found another benchmark, loudly proclaiming that "Pirates 3" was the fastest film ever to reach the $500 million mark in the overseas market.

Film people have become particularly adept at finding new records or new milestones: "Pirates 3," for example, became the seventh-most-popular movie (eventually the fourth) ever released in the international market and "Spider-Man 3" moved up to 10th.

The lexicon of movie records is mindboggling and the industry is arguably the most prolific practitioner of inventing new records.

A movie can attain a horde of records: the biggest opening weekend ever; a studio's biggest opening ever; a studio's second-, third- or fourth-biggest opening ever; the biggest opening ever for a particular country, region or continent; the biggest opening day for a specific market, specific day, or a holiday; the best b.o. achievement overall or for a specific territory by a star, a director or a producer, ad infinitum.

And when a film does not break a record in these categories, you can be sure that stats mavens will find a past film of a similar genre that a new contender can beat somewhere by a percentage point or two.

Industry staffers joke about the story of interns being asked to come up with concepts for setting new records. The winner: "Rhino III" broke an all-time boxoffice record at the Bijou Theater in Iceland for a rainy Tuesday in November during an eclipse.