Weekend Briefing: 'Eclipse' Rises with Record Release, Midnight Launch
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ripped into the record books with its midnight launch, grossing over $30 million at more than 4,000 theaters. That surpassed The Twilight Saga: New Moon's previous benchmark of $26.3 million. Included in Eclipse's sum was a new IMAX midnight milestone of over $1 million at 192 venues, topping Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's $959,000.

Additionally, the first Twilight and New Moon were re-issued as a one-off, pre-Eclipse double-feature Thursday night at 2,037 theaters and made $2.4 million. Previously, Twilight took in $1.3 million in its re-issue the night before New Moon's opening.

Casting the widest net ever, Eclipse bit into a whopping 4,416 locations on Wednesday and will reach 4,468 locations on Friday. Iron Man 2 previously held the broadest opening title with 4,380 locations, while Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince previously held the overall record for highest location count with 4,455. Eclipse's count includes 193 IMAX venues, which is just shy of Shrek Forever After's 194 record. Eclipse's overall screen count, though, is estimated at 8,000, which is far from a new high.

Though it may have fewer screens than New Moon's estimated 8,500 due to a more competitive market, Eclipse is packing more than enough showings to satisfy demand over the Independence Day holiday session, which will span six days, from Wednesday through Monday. New Moon shattered the opening day record last November, grossing $72.7 million in its Friday debut (which included its $26.3 million midnight start), and had racked up $178.9 million through its sixth day. It flamed out quickly and ultimately tallied $296.6 million, greatly improving on the first Twilight's already stellar $192.8 million. Due to burning off demand on Wednesday and Thursday and other factors, Eclipse is not likely to top New Moon's $142.8 million opening weekend.

The last time Independence Day fell on a Sunday was in 2004. Spider-Man 2 was the hotly-anticipated release, and it broke the holiday record, one that stands to this day. Its Wednesday, June 30, opening day came in at $40.4 million, or the equivalent of around $52 million adjusted for ticket price inflation. By its sixth day, it had pulled in $180.1 million, or more than $230 million adjusted. Its predecessor, Spider-Man, was a far superior blockbuster to New Moon, and there had been a two-year wait, not seven months like for Eclipse.

With franchises performing at these lofty levels, comparisons are hard to come by. The other key current franchise with a literary basis, Harry Potter, shifted from November to the summer for its third entry, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (though it had a year and a half wait after the second movie). It scored a then series high opening gross, but wound up being the lowest-grossing entry, despite being based on a fan favorite book, like Eclipse.

Should Eclipse exceed New Moon in the long run, it would buck the trend of closely-timed serialized sequels, joining the ranks of the exceptionally-performing Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises. When a second movie explodes with anticipation after the first movie's success, a certain amount of disappointment is inevitable and it becomes incredibly difficult for the third movie to maintain the momentum, especially when it hasn't had the time to stock more pent-up demand. That's how The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean series played out.

Summit Entertainment hasn't rested on its laurels, which is evident from the number of theaters they secured as well as a marketing campaign that has upped the action ante, suggesting that what was set up in the first two movies is finally coming to a head. On Wednesday, Summit said that they were expecting Eclipse to gross $150 million in its first six days (and it has already met a fifth of that expectation from its initial midnight showings alone), including $60 million for the Friday-to-Sunday period. Females both young and old are predictably the driving force, and Summit reported that male interest is about the same as it was for New Moon.

With Box Office Mojo readers, Eclipse has not fared as well as New Moon: 26.6 percent of respondents voted to see Eclipse in its opening versus 32.1 percent for New Moon at the same point (though results may be skewed due to Eclipse's Wednesday start). Anticipation may have been lowered by the reception to New Moon: Box Office Mojo readers graded New Moon a "C+," compared to the first Twilight's "B," while the IMDb User Rating for New Moon was 4.6 (out of 10), compared to 5.7 for Twilight.

Meanwhile, The Last Airbender is the other nationwide debut for the Independence Day holiday session, opening at approximately 4,600 screens at 3,169 locations on Thursday (including 1,606 3D venues). It's the live-action adaptation of the popular animated television show Avatar: The Last Airbender, and writer-director M. Night Shyamalan and company are aiming to reach beyond the fan base. To that end, Last Airbender's marketing has tried to dazzle with its supernatural action spectacle. However, ads have been light on story and character, and what can be gleamed by the uninitiated may be an unrelatable fantasy world: aside from Lord of the Rings, the top-performing fantasies have had a basis in the real world, including Harry Potter and Narnia.

There is a danger of The Last Airbender appealing like a more polished version of Dragonball Evolution, but the track record of similar fare generally points to a solid run, albeit not in the blockbuster realm. Box Office Mojo readers have expressed a decent amount of interest: in polling, nearly 36 percent have voted to see Last Airbender in its opening, which is nearly a rung above Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Speed Racer among comparable titles.

NOTE: This story was originally written on Tuesday, June 29, and was updated on Wednesday, June 30, with information on Eclipse's midnight opening and again on Thursday, July 1, with further release information.

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