It's a 'Matrix' world at box office

Times Staff Writer

The final film in the "Matrix" trilogy, released simultaneously around the globe to combat piracy and leverage maximum publicity, pulled in an estimated $204 million worldwide in its first five days. "The Matrix Revolutions" grossed about $85.5 million in North America since Wednesday and an estimated $118.6 in 94 other countries.

But with the film beset by largely negative reviews and facing strong alternatives at the box office -- notably Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell's "Elf" and the British romantic comedy "Love Actually" -- the Friday-through-Sunday domestic estimates of $50.2 million for "Matrix Revolutions" did not set a record for an R-rated November opening. That honor still belongs to Eminem's "8-Mile," which opened to $51.2 million last year. Even so, "Matrix Revolutions" has already grossed more than "8 Mile" did in its first week out.

With strong new movies appealing to a broad spectrum of moviegoers, this weekend proved a big one at the nation's theaters; totals for the top 10 films were up 66% from those last weekend and 14% from the comparable weekend last year, according to box office tracking firm Nielsen EDI Inc.

Reviews notwithstanding, "The Matrix" franchise has been a boon to Warner Bros., raking in more than $1.4 billion in worldwide theatrical grosses alone, said the film's producer, Joel Silver, and that does not include VHS and DVD sales. The two sequels together cost roughly $300 million to make, while the first film cost about $80 million. Silver noted that the films' primary audience -- young males -- rarely pays attention to reviews.

Beyond the shadow of "Matrix," "Elf" posted an impressive opening weekend estimate of $32.1 million. The first major hit for director Favreau, "Elf" benefited from good reviews, a PG rating and strong word of mouth.

"Elf" was targeted to the family audience and young girls -- two groups that did not attend "Matrix Revolutions" in large numbers, said Russell Schwartz, head of marketing for New Line Cinema. The feel-good comedy, which cost around $30 million to make and about as much for its long-term marketing campaign, was released in November with hopes that it would endure throughout the holiday season.

Schwartz said New Line's prototype was "Home Alone," which was the No. 1 movie for 12 weeks when it opened in November 1990. The studio wanted to market the film in two parts: first, selling it as a "fish out of water" tale (Ferrell plays a man, raised by elves, who embarks on a search for his human family); second, as a Christmas movie that could gain a toehold on the market before other family films like "The Cat in the Hat" are released.

The release date "allowed us to sell the movie twice," Schwartz said. "It's better to be in early and let the movie speak for itself."

In a similar vein, Universal's "Love Actually" grossed a strong $11,480 per theater in 576 locations for an estimated gross of $6.6 million, mainly through strong word of mouth from sneak previews and an aggressive preview campaign.

The feel-good drama, written and directed by Richard Curtis (who wrote the screenplays for "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Bridget Jones's Diary,") appealed mainly to women over 30.

With a large cast of well-liked actors such as Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney and Liam Neeson, the $30-million-plus film seems likely to hold up well through the holidays.

But it was important for Universal to get the picture out on a weekend devoid of other new adult dramas, said Nikki Rocco, head of domestic distribution for Universal.

Considering the competition, she said, "it was perfect counter- programming." It was also a good weekend for returning films such as Disney's animated film "Brother Bear," which grossed an estimated $18.6 million in its second nationwide weekend.

Sony/Revolution Studios' Southern-set drama "Radio" dropped only 23% from last weekend. That film grossed $7.4 million for a total of $36.3 million. Other adult fare such as Warner Bros.' "Mystic River," 20th Century Fox's "Runaway Jury" and Paramount's family-oriented "School of Rock" held strong as well, dropping between 20% to 30% from last weekend.


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Box Office


Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total (millions)


*--* The Matrix Revolutions $50.2 $85.5

Elf $32.1 $32.1

Brother Bear $18.6 $44.1

Scary Movie 3 $11.1 $93.3

Radio $7.4 $36.3

Love Actually $6.6 $6.6

Mystic River $4.8 $40.5

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre $4.8 $73.2

Runaway Jury $4.8 $40.1

School of Rock $3.1 $73.6


Source: Nielsen EDI, Inc.

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