'Star Wars' Not Likely to 'Clone' 'Spider-Man's Success
Though it's only the start of the summer movie season, the two movies that will most likely end the season with the highest box office grosses—Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man—are already in the marketplace.

As George Lucas has already conceded, Spider-Man will cling to all of its sprinting records. The Marvel Comics adaptation's amazing $114,844,116 opening weekend was just too unprecedented, too universal in being the first to cross the elusive $100 million mark in three days, that Star Wars isn't even trying, hoping to be more of a marathon runner.

Spider-Man benefited from a super-saturation release of 3,615 theaters and 7,500 screens, a $50 million ad campaign and decades of pent-up demand from fans. Attack of the Clones, on the other hand, is playing at a still mega-wide 3,161 theaters and 6,100 screens, has a relatively modest campaign estimated at $25 million, and Star Wars fans were satiated—and many disappointed—just three years ago.

After 16 years since 1983's Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace blasted off Wednesday, May 19, 1999 at 2,970 theaters and on 5,500 screens. It scored $28,542,349 on that day, the record at the time. It then plunged 57% to $12,307,918 on Thursday. That led to a $64,810,970 three-day weekend, the second biggest ever at that point, for a five-day tally of $105,661,237. It left theaters with $431,088,297, a total that stands as the fourth highest of all time.

With its Thursday debut, Attack of the Clones strays not only from just about every other movie released in the United States, but from the Star Wars tradition of opening on a Wednesday. That tradition kicked off May 25, 1977 when Episode IV launched at 32 theaters, one percent of Clones. The reasoning is to make Clones a truly global release, bowing day-and-date with 72 countries. It also improves its weekend prospects by having one less day to burn off business.

Adjusted for ticket price inflation, The Phantom Menace's opening day would equal around $32 million today. With more opportunity for people to see it, that's a number Attack of the Clones should top, although it won't likely soar as high as Spider-Man's $39,406,872 opening day. Thursday is traditionally a much slower day than Friday, and kids are still in school. Not to mention, Thursday offers the season finales of such TV ratings juggernauts as ER, CSI and Friends. That said, Clones could still score $35 million on Thursday.

However, that Thursday launch should ultimately be what costs Attack of the Clones of any weekend records. The Phantom Menace's first weekend would adjust to over $72 million today, something Clones should easily exceed given, among other things, the increased frontloadedness in the movie-going pattern since 1999. Friday should see a drop-off from Thursday, since the hardcore fans will have already rushed to see it. But a rebound should occur on Saturday, followed by a modest decline on Sunday. All told, Clones could come close to $90 million for the weekend, the third biggest of all time behind Spider-Man and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone's $90.3 million.

Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary—tremendous romantic comedy hits one and all. They had two common denominators: star Hugh Grant and production company Working Title Films. Now, Grant and Working Title reteam on About a Boy, which has already repeated its predecessors' success in the U.K., having earned $15.6 million through its third weekend.

Directed by American Pie's Paul and Chris Weitz, About a Boy follows Notting Hill's footsteps by opening in the wake of a Star Wars movie. Hill debuted the weekend following The Phantom Menace, and wooed $21,811,180 from 2,747 theaters on course to $116,089,678. Then again, it was toplined by Julia Roberts. Boy has just Grant above the title. His familiar female co-stars Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) and Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) are shown but not named in the ad campaign. One word of caution, though, DreamWorks attempted direct counter-programming to The Phantom Menace back in 1999 with The Love Letter, which opened to just $2,692,819 from 769 venues.

Boy is also mimicking Bridget Jones in its release pattern. Bridget Jones made a $10,733,933 entry on its first weekend from 1,611 venues, then added 610 the following weekend on its leggy run to $71,543,427. Boy is going out on an even more modest 1,207 theaters, with plans to add 500 next weekend. Though it appeals to a similar demographic as Unfaithful and next week's Enough, it carries the distinction of being the only adult comedy in the marketplace. Throw in a crackling marketing campaign that shows off Grant's star turn and the picture's wit, and About a Boy could mature to around $9 million this weekend.

Snaring $237,021,890 in its first 13 days prior to the advent of the Clones, Spider-Man is on pace to become the fastest movie to scale $300 million, which it will likely reach over Memorial Day weekend. That doesn't mean Spidey won't feel the brunt of the Force this weekend. Look for the famed webslinger to take that 50% hit that most uber-openers get in their sophomore sessions to around $36 million this weekend for a 17-day total of over $275 million.

Despite mixed word-of-mouth, Unfaithful has enough momentum to see a reasonable 40% decline to around $9 million, while teen comedy The New Guy should be hit harder by Clones, falling around 45% to $5 million.

On the same frame last year, Shrek gobbled up $42,347,760 from 3,587 theaters on its way to becoming the highest grossing picture of the summer with $267,665,011. Jennifer Lopez' Angel Eyes started with an earthly $9,225,575 from 2,375 en route to $24,174,218.