'X2' Unites 3,741 Theaters in Record Bow
by Brandon Gray
May 1, 2003
Mutants may be in the minority, but this weekend they'll be dominating the majority of the nation's theaters.X2: X-Men United will be unleashed at 3,741 venues, breaking Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets's 3,682-theater record as the widest opening release ever. To put that in perspective, the $100 million plus sequel will be playing at 62% of the nation's 6,050 theaters. Although, the actual screens will be significantly lower than Chamber of Secrets's 8,515 record.
"It was never our intention to break the record," Fox executive vice president and general sales manager Rick Myerson told Box Office Mojo. "It was the demand from theaters. We decided we wouldn't stop adding them as long as we could still be in profit after the cost of prints, etc. We never thought we'd break this record. It's pretty awesome."
X2 will also set another record—biggest day-and-date international release ever. On Friday, Wolverine and company will be unleashed into 80 countries and 93 markets with roughly 15,000 prints in circulation. That tops the previous record holder, Fox's own Attack of the Clones, which debuted in 74 countries and raked in $69 million in its first four days on top of its $110.2 million domestic bow.
The X2 marketing has picked up where the first one left off—same tone, same guy doing the voiceover—emphasizing the continuing X-Men saga. The steel sheen of the X2 logo with the "X-Men United" subtitle is reminiscent of Terminator 2: Judgment Day's "T2" campaign. For fans, though, the ads and trailers have hit all the right notes with the chess duel between Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), more Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) morphing and slinking about, the introduction of Nightcrawler (Alan Cummings), and, above all, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in action. The two main spots end with Wolverine punchlines—one of him unsheathing his adamantium claws at a house cat that proceeds to lick them and the other one of him being asked exactly what he is the professor of, followed by quick shots of him leaping through the air, and ending with his snarling answer, "Art."
The campaign, however, is not as ubiquitous as Spider-Man's last year. Fox seems to be taking a more restrained, strategic approach reminiscent of how they've handled the Star Wars prequels instead of the "throw-a-ton-of-ads-at-the-wall-and-hope-some-stick" method that is common for tent pole releases. Many viewers may have already seen more ads for The Matrix Reloaded, which doesn't bow until May 15. Much of X2's awareness has been built on promotional tie-ins, such as Dr. Pepper, Baskin Robbins and Mazda, which is using the movie to help launch its rotary-powered sports car, the RX-8.
Though Fox opened its other Marvel movie Daredevil on a Thursday night, there won't be early screenings for X2. However, some theaters will start showing it at 12:01 a.m., which will technically count towards Friday.
X2 exceeds X-Men's 3,025-theater start by 716 venues. The mutants' first evolution led to the Marvel movie revolution (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, etc.) after raking in $157,299,717 (and $140 million overseas) with a modest-by-tent-pole-standards $75 million production budget. Domestically, it surprised the industry right out of the gate when it took in $20.8 million on its opening day, July 14, 2000. That led to a $54,471,475 weekend, a record at the time for a non-sequel. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, that opening would equal over $60 million today.
Hence, the "Hail the Conquering Hero" treatment X2 is receiving and its prime release schedule real estate.
The benefits of bowing in early May were first fully exploited by 1996's Twister. The disaster flick stormed the marketplace with $41,059,405 out of the gate at 2,414 theaters on its way to $241,721,524. After comparable debuts for 1998's Deep Impact and 1999's The Mummy, the frame was taken to the next level in 2001 with the $68,139,035 opening of The Mummy Returns (en route to $202,019,785).
But it was Spider-Man that made history not just for a summer kick-off but for all weekends. The X-Men's Marvel stable mate snared $114,844,116 over the May 3-5, 2002 frame at 3,615 theaters and around 7,500 screens, shattering every daily and weekend record by a wide margin. It spun $403,706,375 by the end of its run, topping Batman and Superman as the most popular superhero movie of all time.
X-Men isn't quite the cultural phenomenon that Spider-Man is, so it would be unreasonable to expect X2 to come close to the webslinger's opening, despite its record theater count. Still, with positive word-of-mouth from the first movie and a superhero-friendly climate that has allowed even lesser known ones like Daredevil to crack $100 million, X2 is poised to post the second-biggest opening the early May frame has ever seen and to out-gross its predecessor.
Sequels to blockbusters have been on a roll of late, explaining why studios are banking on them more than ever this summer. The Mummy Returns's opening, for instance, was 57% better than the first one, and it ultimately grossed 30% more. Among franchises with hardcore fan bases, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers stands as king, not only by besting The Fellowship of the Ring's opening by 31% but by also becoming the first uber-blockbuster ($300 million plus) to make more than its predecessor, exceeding Fellowship by 8% thus far.
All told, X2 could deliver an uncanny opening weekend in the $75 million range. That would make it a lock to pass $200 million, even if it proves to have shorter legs than X1.
The bar has been raised for The Matrix Reloaded, which most believed would be the first one to break Harry Potter's record. When asked if this means Reloaded will strike 3,750 theaters or more out of the gate, distributor Warner Bros. simply replied that they would try to get as many theaters they could get. In other words, bet on it.