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Twilight Eclipse Sets Sights on Spider-Man 2 July 4th Weekend Record

by Anthony D'Alessandro
June 29, 2010 7:22 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

What's going to happen this July 4th weekend? Moviegoers are going to wake up and recharge the box office, thanks to the potent power of the Twilight franchise, writes Anthony D'Alessandro, who digs deep into the Twilight numbers. Yes, Eclipse, the third Twilight Saga installment, could challenge Spider-Man 2's $180.2 million opening record, set back in 2004.

Summit Entertainment’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is about to inject a blood transfusion into the anemic summer box office.     

Industry expectations vary: at the low end, Eclipse should easily outstrip in six days the opening weekend of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which swooned $142.8 million last November, the third highest three-day opener of all time. At the high end, Eclipse could yield a sanguine $160 to $180 million. In order to topple Sony’s Spider-Man 2's Independence Day opening record, Eclipse would have to exceed $180.1 million in six days.

Among the highest-grossers during their first six days are Dark Knight, which continues to hold the record: $222.2 million. New Moon is farther down on the six-day list with $178.9 million.

Eclipse launches Tuesday night in select cities at 12:01 am before opening wide in 4,408 theaters Wednesday. By Friday, Summit will increase Eclipse’s theater count to 4,437.  For New Moon, midnight showings proved to be a barometer of the weekend to come, as hordes of Twihards shelled out a record $26.3 million to see the film at 3,514 venues when it bowed on November 20.

The calendar favors Eclipse, as July 4th falls on a Sunday this year, giving Eclipse an extra day to play Monday, when most folks are off work.  Spider-Man 2 capitalized on a similar spoil back in 2004. Weather can also make a difference. While Saturday is expected to show stronger ticket sales than Sunday, rain fuels attendance. And heat waves around the country don’t bode well for holiday moviegoing.

Because the July 4th weekend bounces around, it historically clicks in less ticket sales than the first three days of the Memorial Day weekend.  It’s not unusual for the weekends preceding or following a July 4th frame to gross more money. Studios are crossing their fingers that this year’s July 4th frame outperforms the dismal Memorial Day weekend four-day returns: $184.2 million for the top 12 films.

Given that the first two entries in the Twilight vampire saga worked as Thanksgiving must-sees, why would Summit break precedent with Eclipse? It's a no-brainer: To make Eclipse available to the widest possible audience. “A fall release is limited by the mercy of school calendars,” says Summit domestic distribution president Richard Fay. “As we looked to expand the audience, we found summer to be the right place with this picture. In terms of midnight shows, people don’t need to be concerned about going to school the next day.”
 
And Summit went with a Wednesday bow instead of Friday in order to distance Eclipse from other films in the market. Box office analysts show Eclipse tracking strongly among women over males. Here's the breakdown: Women under 25 (49%), over 25 (25%), guys under 25 (13%) and over 25 (13%). New Moon exit polls showed 80% female with 50% under the age of 21. Summit is trying to lure more men to see Eclipse.

The only other film that dares to bow against Eclipse is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender from Paramount, based on the Nickelodeon animated TV show. (Check back later today for further analysis.) Currently, across four quadrants, competitors see the film, which was retrofitted at the last minute in 3-D, tracking heavily among males under 25 (21%) and over 25 (26%). Females are the minority: under 25 (15%) and over (12%). Airbender looks to bow in more than 3,000 theaters

While the Tomatometer hasn’t collected all the reviews yet for Eclipse, it's currently ranking 50%. although some early reviews suggest it's the best of the three. The first Twilight scored 50%, while New Moon went 27% rotten. In any case, it's unlikely that Twilight fans care what critics have to say.

It's a given that with its modest $68-million budget, Eclipse will be enormously profitable. While that figure has upticked over the last two installments, this is tentpole filmmaking at bargain-basement prices. In fact, this franchise tends to make most of its budget back on the first day of release: New Moon cost $50 million and posted $72.7 million, the highest opening-day record of all time, while the first Twilight, which cost $37 million, rang up $36 million in its first 24 hours.

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