Tuesday morning, National Geographic Cinema Ventures, the company releasing the rock concert movie "U2 3D," said it was moving up the picture's expansion to hundreds of theaters by one day to Valentine's Day -- "in keeping with the universe-as-one theme that U2 so wonderfully focuses on."
Oops. Four hours later the distributor backed off. Because of a "programming conflict," it would wait to go wider until Feb. 15, as originally planned.
The conflict was simple: Exhibitors expect Walt Disney Co.'s 3-D movie "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" -- opening today for a one-week run at 683 specially equipped theaters -- to get extended to a second week, and if the sizzling early sales for this weekend are any indication, every day will count.
Bono can worry about world peace in the meantime. Miley Cyrus, the 15-year-old pop singing sensation who dons the blond Hannah Montana wig when she takes the stage, is about to add to her considerable wealth. Even with its release restricted to 3-D theaters, as opposed to the launch pad of 3,000 or more locations that major studio movies typically get, "Hannah Montana" could break box-office records.
The G-rated "Hannah," produced for $7 million, should top the ticket sales charts over two other Super Bowl weekend counter-programming efforts -- the Jessica Alba thriller "The Eye" and the Eva Longoria Parker-Paul Rudd romantic comedy "Over Her Dead Body."
The character, the subject of a Disney Channel TV sitcom, is enormously popular with "tween" girls, roughly those ages 8 to 12. Her live concerts routinely sell out and fetch scalpers hundreds of dollars per ticket.
Disney says it will wait for the box-office tallies from today and Saturday before deciding whether to add a one-week encore. "Hannah" could set records for Super Bowl weekend (held by thriller "When a Stranger Calls," which grossed $21.6 million in 2006) and for the biggest opening at fewer than 1,000 theaters (held by comedy "Borat," which pulled in $26.5 million, also in 2006).
With screenings starting at 8 a.m. at many theaters, it also could turn today into an unofficial school holiday, if absenteeism runs rampant.
At a brisk 80 minutes, theaters can squeeze in plenty of showtimes, especially those screening it in more than one auditorium.
And, to the benefit of Disney and exhibitors, the movie is being marketed as a special event with pricing to match: tickets run as high as $24 at the El Capitan in Hollywood and $20 at the Bridge Cinema de Lux in Los Angeles, and many theaters have scrapped their kiddie and matinee discounts.
Disney has been promoting advance ticket sales since Dec. 1. On Wednesday, online ticket seller Fandango.com said more than 1,000 shows had already sold out.
Consumer tracking surveys point to an opening weekend of $27 million. Among the core audience of girls ages 7 to 14, the movie has nearly 95% awareness and 60% "definite interest." Its numbers among parents are also potent.
Our guess is "Hannah" will outperform the tracking. Admittedly, this is based on back-of-the-envelope math, and Projector never got past basic algebra in high school.
There appear to be about 13,500 showings of "Hannah" across the country over the weekend, or six to seven per day per theater. The average auditorium, according to industry estimates, holds 200 to 250 people. With so many advance sell-outs, the movie could average 180 ticket sales per showing at $14 a pop, bringing its total to $34 million.
Regardless of how well it opens, "Hannah" marks the latest milestone in the 3-D push from Hollywood studios such as Disney and the theater owners who are also investing heavily in the technology.
Disney is making several animated 3-D films over the next two years, including "A Christmas Carol" and the "Toy Story" trilogy (new versions of the first two installments plus another sequel).
"This is not a one-off wonder," said Mark Zoradi, president of the studio's motion picture group.
"The Eye," produced for about $22 million by Paula Wagner's C/W Productions, is getting a much wider release at 2,436 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Lionsgate Films is distributing it domestically and Paramount Vantage is handling it overseas.
The remake of an Asian horror film is the latest in a tradition of PG-13 rated thrillers opening on Super Bowl weekend. The genre brings out big crowds on Friday night, so the steep Sunday drop caused by the seemingly endless football telecast makes less of a dent.
The movie is tracking well with females, and thanks to sultry star Alba it has also caught the attention of guys, so it could open to $15 million or more.
The PG-13 rated romantic comedy "Over Her Dead Body" is a Gold Circle Films production being distributed domestically by New Line Cinema.
Tracking points to a single-digit opening, although it perked up Thursday, according to producer Paul Brooks. The ad campaign was recently tweaked to target older females, he said.
Gold Circle has had success in recent years with Super Bowl counter-programming comedies such as "The Wedding Date" and "Because I Said So," but has yet to face such fierce competition as "Hannah," which figures to attract plenty of young moms in spite of its modest theater count.
"You never want to take on a phenomenon," Brooks said.