Records hang by thread

Superhero's welcome for 'Spidey 3'

You don't need Carnac the Magnificent to predict that Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" will dominate the boxoffice this weekend. The only question is: how big is big likely to be?

Sony, right now, is in the enviable position of managing great expectations. But with Spidey destroying records in most of the 16 territories where it began its worldwide rollout Tuesday, managing expectations isn't going to be easy. The web-slinging franchise directed 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% over 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 away 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 "Chest."

That remains a tall order. For one thing, "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 bar and are wagering on whether it can topple "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 slain last year in New York, the PG-13 indie stars Keri Russell as an unhappily married waitress and was warmly received at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered in January.

Lionsgate will launch the PG-13 "Away from Her," from actress-turned-director Sarah Polley, which premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. The film has earned rave reviews for Julie Christie's star turn as a woman with Alzheimer's.

On a lighter note, First Look will raise the curtain on "Paris, je t'aime," an omnibus film in which 20 international directors — including such Americans as Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant and Alexander Payne — offer up 18 vignettes about life in the City of Lights.