News

'Matrix' Loads Massive Opening Day

by Brandon Gray
May 16, 2003

Warner Bros. programmed the highest screen count ever for The Matrix Reloaded, and the box office reality lived up to the hype on opening day.

The hotly anticipated middle movie of the Wachowski Bros.' cyber-epic raked in an incredible $42,508,303 at 3,603 theaters on Thursday, storming past the $30,141,471 that Attack of the Clones posted on this same day last year as the biggest weekday gross ever. That raw number also stands as the highest opening day ever, ahead of Spider-Man's $39,406,872.

However, there's an asterisk next to that record as Reloaded's Wednesday night previews were folded into the Thursday gross. Subtract those and Reloaded's true Thursday would probably come in at a still phenomenal $38 million. Spidey's $43,622,264 Saturday still stands as biggest single day gross ever.

Reloaded grabbed an estimated $5 million from its Wednesday 10 p.m. showings at 2,750 theaters, according to the studio's executive VP and general sales manager of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein. "For a strictly 10 p.m. show, that's a record," Goldstein noted, but he cautioned that an exact number was not available. "As any studio will tell you, it's difficult to say for sure what a movie like this did at 10 p.m. as some theaters report it and some don't."

The 10 p.m. preview record had stood unchallenged for 10 years after Jurassic Park devoured it with $3,132,632 from 1,432 theaters back in 1993. It went on to set the then opening weekend record with a $47,026,828 haul at 2,404 venues.

Spider-Man's $114,844,116 weekend record will likely remain intact, in part because Reloaded burnt off some of its demand with its Thursday bow. However, it should beat Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone's $90,294,621 for the No. 2 spot, and could top $100 million. That would bring its four-day haul to around $140 million. In comparison, Spider-Man snared $125,878,901 in its first four days (Friday-to-Monday).

Warner Bros. unleashed Reloaded on a record 8,517 screens, inching past previous champ and studio stablemate Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets's 8,515 tally. That 8,517 count is strictly prints that the studio sent out and does not include any interlocking that theaters might have done, i.e., using one print to show the movie in two auditoriums. The 3,603-theater count, though, was well shy of X2: X-Men United's 3,741 opening record, which grabbed $31,247,979 on its first day.

Looking at the first movie's gross alone could not have portended such a spectacular showing for Reloaded. The Matrix mustered $4,803,310 at 2,704 sites on its Wednesday bow, March 31, 1999. That led to a $27,788,331 weekend at 2,849 theaters en route to $171,479,930. Those were enormous numbers, but not in the rarefied uber-blockbuster air of a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. But in those four years, The Matrix fanbase multiplied and became more devout on home video and television. The DVD was the first to sell a million copies and is estimated at having sold over 5 million so far, generating around $100 million in revenue. The under-$100,000 The Matrix Revisited DVD documentary is estimated to have added another $20 million to the franchise's coffers. More importantly, The Matrix became a cultural phenomenon well beyond its grosses, it's bullet-time fight scenes mimicked and spoofed in many movies since.

Reloaded and the third installment The Matrix Revolutions were made simultaneously and will be released six months apart (the latter due Nov. 5). Though a specific accounting of what was spent on each movie is unavailable, the combined production cost came in at $300 million (about the same as the three Lord of the Rings movies), far beyond the $63 million spent to make the first movie. Throw in the lofty $100 million being spent on marketing, and that's a $400 million investment in two sequels to a movie that grossed $458 million worldwide ($286.5 million of that overseas).

Perhaps emboldened by the success of The Lord of the Rings's staggered release, Warner Bros. copied the strategy employed for the simultaneously shot second and third Back to the Future movies, Part II of which came out four years after Part I just like The Matrix. If history repeats itself, audience reaction to Reloaded will be crucial to Revolutions's success. Back to the Future Part II got mixed word-of-mouth and wound up with $118,450,002 despite a then record-breaking $43,016,225 five-day Thanksgiving berth. Even though Part III had a generally more positive reaction, the damage was done, and it lassoed $87,727,583 by the end of its run, or 74% of Part II's tally.

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