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Reality of the ‘Matrix’: It kills on opening day

Times Staff Writers

Watch out “Spider-Man,” Neo is climbing up right behind you.

“The Matrix Reloaded” enjoyed the single best opening day in movie history, grossing $42.5 million on Thursday, distributor Warner Bros. said. It’s the most money any movie has made in a single day next to “Spider-Man,” which grossed $43.6 million on its second day of release.

The futuristic sequel surpassed the $39.4-million opening day record set by “Spider-Man” a year ago. Warners said about $5 million in “The Matrix Reloaded” tickets were sold at special previews Wednesday night. The sequel is playing on a record 8,517 screens in more than 3,600 locations.

The huge numbers were not unexpected, even though “The Matrix Reloaded” is rated R, while “Spider-Man” was PG-13. It’s the second part of a trilogy (“The Matrix Revolutions” opens in November) and stars Keanu Reeves as Neo, the last, best hope for mankind battling the machine world of the Matrix.

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Estimates from National Research Group suggested that the “Matrix” sequel could generate three-day grosses between $100 million and $120 million. Estimates from other box-office trackers suggested the “Matrix” numbers could exceed $140 million over the course of four days. “The Matrix Reloaded” is shooting to break the key record for the best three-day weekend. That mark is currently held by “Spider-Man,” which grossed $114.8 million a year ago. (“Spider-Man” opened on a Friday and the comparisons would be Friday-Sunday figures.)

On Wednesday, lines started forming hours before the first showings of the futuristic sequel. At the Universal City Loews Cineplex, 29-year-old Richard Gilkerson turned up for the first screenings wearing leather pants and a black “Matrix"-style overcoat. “The first movie was very, very interesting,” said Gilkerson. “I think this is one of the most anticipated movies since the new ‘Star Wars’ movies came out.”

Several thousand miles away at the Cannes Film Festival, “The Matrix Reloaded” got its international premiere with the kind of celebrity glitz the festival is famed for. The party afterward, attended by such Hollywood stalwarts as Kevin Costner and Steven Soderbergh, was held under a giant plastic tent along the edge of the beach.

The vast hangar-like tent had the film’s color motif of neon green and black. While there was plenty of room around the tent, it was the cordoned-off VIP area that everyone was squeezing to get into. There, sitting on black leather couches, were the stars of the movie, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne, chatting casually with each other. The film’s co-creators, brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski, were nowhere in sight, though producer Joel Silver attended.

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Sue Kroll, head of Warner Bros. International marketing, was on hand to make sure the premiere went off smoothly. Opening a blockbuster summer popcorn movie like “The Matrix Reloaded” at Cannes may seem odd; the festival is dominated by more obscure, smaller European movies. But Kroll said opening the film at Cannes was a “no-brainer” since it combines “both the auteur [vision] and is commercial.” Like 20th Century Fox’s “X-2: X-Men United,” the sequel to “X-Men,” Warner Bros. isn’t waiting long to roll out “The Matrix Reloaded” overseas. Warners is opening the film in France and Australia this weekend with the bulk of the other international markets the following weekend.

“X-2,” which has already taken in more than $155 million domestically, could take in another $20 million over the weekend based on box-office estimates. The Eddie Murphy comedy “Daddy Day Care” could collect as much as $18 million in its second weekend.

The estimates for “Down With Love,” the only other new movie besides “The Matrix Reloaded” in wide release, predicted a debut weekend between $7 million and $10 million, although that film could benefit from young teens who buy a ticket for the PG-13 rated romantic comedy and then sneak into “The Matrix Reloaded.”

The first “Matrix” movie, released in 1999, generated total ticket sales of $171.5 million. Its opening weekend was a comparatively small $27.8 million.

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John Horn reported this story from Los Angeles; Lorenza Munoz reported from Cannes.


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