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'Spider-man' Could Snare Record Opening
Big-screen comic book adventure "Spider-Man" swung into more than 3,600 theaters on Friday for a movie opening that experts believe may snare a record start for the unofficial summer film season.

Starring Tobey Maguire as the Marvel Comics superhero who spins webs and crawls up skyscrapers, the film is widely expected to perform at least as well as "The Mummy Returns," which grossed $68.1 million in its first three days in theaters the same weekend last year.

If "Spider-Man" exceeds that total, it will set a new box-office benchmark for the first weekend of May, which in recent years has become the de facto launch of a summer season that officially begins Memorial Day weekend.

Some have speculated Spidey's opening could even creep into $80 million territory, or higher.

"It has all the earmarks of a film that can break into the ranks of the top openers of all time," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking service Exhibitor Relations.

The film's distributor, Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp's Sony Pictures Entertainment, is making no predictions but said early indications were good.

"We're seeing matinee sellouts across the country, and that bodes well for us," a studio spokesman told Reuters. "We feel very good going into the weekend."

The film also was doing brisk advance business, with the nation's No. 1 advance-ticket retailer, Fandango, said it accounted for 97 percent of its sales on Thursday.

The film, which reportedly cost $130 million to bring to the screen, is certain to benefit from a massive promotional campaign, a built-in fan base of comic book devotees, a mix of action and romance and a PG-13 rating, said Dan Marks, executive director of box office analyst AC Nielsen/EDI.

"It has lots going for it, and it's going to be a very, very big opener," Marks said, adding he would not be surprised if the film eclipses the "Mummy Returns" opening.


The fact that Spider-Man's alter ego is a high school geek in love with the girl next door (Kirsten Dunst) also will play well to a key moviegoing demographic.

"This film's central character is a teenager -- that's in the peer group of the most frequent moviegoer, and the most fervent moviegoer," Dergarabedian said.

The scope of the release is huge, as well. "Spider-Man" opened in a whopping 3,615 theaters, with multiple bookings in many venues believed to be putting it on 7,500 screens.

By comparison, Warner Bros., a unit of AOL Time Warner Inc. , opened "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in a record 3,672 theaters and 8,100 screens in November. That film set an all-time record for a three-day weekend opening with $90.3 million.

Dergarabedian said surpassing "Harry Potter" is a tall order for any film, and that "Spider-Man" stands a more reasonable chance of eclipsing the $72.1 million grossed during the first three days of "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," which opened Memorial Day weekend 1997. That film holds the box office record for a May debut and ranks No. 2 for all-time three-day openings.

"Spider-Man" is the first of several major pictures coming from Sony in the next few months, including the Adam Sandler comedy "Mr. Deeds" in late June, "Men in Black II" in early July, "Stuart Little II" later that month and the thriller "XXX" in August.

Columbia has been reluctant to raise box-office expectations too high for fear of "Spider-Man" being seen as a commercial failure if it falls short of projections.

Pre-release expectations for "Pearl Harbor" ran so high that the wartime epic from Walt Disney Co. was widely viewed as a disappointment, even though it grossed $75 million on Memorial Day weekend and went on to rake in $450 million worldwide.

(Xinhua News Agency May 6, 2002)

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