risky business

Global numbers game needs a new rule book

In Hollywood, boxoffice records exist to be broken. Last month saw several records fall as Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" and then Walt Disney Studios' "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" stormed the multiplex.

At $151.1 million, "Spider-Man 3" grabbed the title for biggest domestic opening weekend when it bowed in early May, snatching away the prize from last summer's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which made $135.6 million. "At World's End" took the trophy for biggest four-day Memorial Day weekend with $139.8 million, rising above the $122.9 million scored last year by 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand."

The picture got a little murkier when Disney/Buena Vista International claimed a six-day international record for "At World's End" with an opening of $251 million, outdistancing the six-day international total of $232 million Sony registered for "Spider-Man" several weeks earlier. A Sony spokesman insisted that "At World's End" had included returns from preview screenings in several territories, effectively including a seventh day of numbers, and pointing out "for the record" that "Spider-Man 3" amassed $256.7 million in its first seven days abroad. For its part, Disney insisted that the preview figures it rolled into its six-day total were relatively insignificant.

In many respects, the debate was academic. Both films are doing big business worldwide. "Spider-Man 3" already has become Sony's biggest worldwide grosser and appears headed to about $900 million worldwide. "At World's End" is aiming for the $1 billion worldwide mark, which would find it challenging "Dead Man's Chest," which currently ranks as the No. 3 film of all time worldwide with $1.07 billion in its account.

But the miniflap did open the door to a new era, one in which the rules haven't yet been fully written. The statisticians who compare domestic openings have refined their comparisons; three-day weekends, four-day holiday weekends, etc. are all clearly delineated. But the definition of worldwide day-and-date openings — with different countries debuting movies on different days of the week — has yet to be fully outlined.

The intense focus on worldwide openings also obscures how movies have been doing in subsequent weeks domestically, where the competition has been a lot tougher than it has been abroad. After five weekends in release, "Spider-Man 3" is running behind the domestic totals posted by the first two "Spider-Man" movies. After two weekends, "At World's End" is running well ahead of the first "Pirates" but behind the second one.

Both films have had to contend with the fact that Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks' "Shrek the Third" also is in the mix in terms of courting North American moviegoers. ("Shrek" did not go out day-and-date worldwide, so it has not been a factor abroad.)

Because all three mega-tentpoles have begun to lose steam domestically, the media already has begun to ask whether audiences are fed up with sequels. Well, if that were the case, none of the three would ever opened to monster figures in the first place. And with big openings projected for today's debut of "Ocean's Thirteen" and the upcoming "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," moviegoers hardly are turning a deaf ear to sequels.

Such saturation releases are probably losing some repeat business, though. To some extent, they are cannibalizing one another, particularly when such movies as "Spider-Man 3" and "At World's End" demand considerable time commitments. Shrewd entertainment consumers also know that the inevitable DVD will be arriving sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Disney's TV spots for "At World's End" this week trumpeted the fact that the movie was the No. 1 film in the world for the past two weekends. Moving beyond bragging rights, worldwide grosses have become the newest marketing tool. The message is, if it's a hit everywhere from here to Timbuktu, then you'd better not ignore it.

Gregg Kilday can be reached at gkilday@hollywoodreporter.com.
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