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'Matrix' sequel is big but no match for 'Spider-Man'

Comic hero's record holds, but Neo and company enjoy a mammoth debut.

May 19, 2003|John Horn and Patrick Day | Times Staff Writers

"Spider-Man's" record is safe for another day.

"The Matrix Reloaded" grossed an estimated $93.3 million in its first full weekend at the box office, a mammoth debut that nevertheless fell well short of the "Spider-Man" opening weekend record of $114.8 million.

The "Matrix" sequel still enjoyed the best opening ever for an R-rated movie and attracted a surprising number of older women. "It's just great, great," Joel Silver, the film's producer, said from London, where "The Matrix Reloaded" will open this Friday. Counting the film's previews Wednesday night, "The Matrix" sequel has grossed $135.8 million to date, with another $30 million coming from 13 overseas territories.

The futuristic thriller delivered the second-best opening weekend ever in the U.S., and the highest in Warner Bros. history, narrowly eclipsing the previous mark of $90.3 million set in 2001 by "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Warners was unsure how the film's R rating would affect business, and had tried to downplay the film's prospects on the eve of its release. Even though some rival studios predicted "The Matrix Reloaded" would topple "Spider-Man's" record and gross as much as $120 million over the weekend, Warners said the film's actual performance exceeded its expectations.

"We were setting our goals based on the fact that we had an R-rated film," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. Pictures. "We are ecstatic." Added Silver: " 'Spider-Man' was only 90 minutes long" -- it was actually 121 minutes -- "and was a kids' movie rated PG-13."

About 40% of the audience for "The Matrix Reloaded" was female, Fellman said, and about half the overall audience was older than 25.

The previous record debut for an R-rated film was set in 2001 by "Hannibal," which grossed $58 million in its first weekend. The highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time is 1984's "Beverly Hills Cop," which grossed $234.8 million. The first "Matrix" movie grossed $27.8 million in its debut weekend in 1999.

"The Matrix Reloaded" opened late Wednesday night, when it grossed an estimated $5 million. It made an additional $37.5 million Thursday. Other studios said Warner Bros. unfairly combined those two numbers to claim the single biggest opening day in movie history of $42.5 million. "There has never been a moment where somebody doesn't take a shot at someone else's success," Fellman said.

The astronomical "Matrix Reloaded" gross proved that core audience of teenage boys was not stopped by the film's R-rating and some theaters' strict admission policies. Like the film's renegade heroes, these teens know how to find the flaws in the system and exploit them.

Standing in line for one of the hourly Saturday matinee screenings at Pacific's Grove Stadium 14, occasional groups of teen boys waited impatiently, sometimes chaperoned by parents, but often in line unattended, benefiting from the kindness (or gullibility) of a lone adult willing to help them out.

Holding a place in the line for four of their friends, 13-year-olds George Guelelibge and Mike Mariana were seeing the movie courtesy of a friend's mom, who trekked to the Grove box office the day before to secure tickets. Such ticket brokering has become standard for Mike and his friends. Getting an R-rated ticket without them is virtually impossible, Mike said. "If we can't [get the ticket], we just leave."

All the effort didn't return much of a payoff for some of these teens. Cat Lee, 15, came out of the movie with mixed feelings. Wearing a black leather jacket and dark pants designed to resemble the look of the film's Carrie-Anne Moss, Cat complained of the "overly exaggerated" tone and was bothered by Keanu Reeves' Superman-like ability to fly, but she stopped short of saying she was actually disappointed. But her mother, Lauren, who accompanied Cat to the film, fell asleep despite the thundering soundtrack and frequent explosions. "She thought it was kinda boring," Cat explained.

Lauren Lee understands the pressure on teens to remain culturally current. "Unfortunately, it's impossible to avoid" R-rated movies, Lauren Lee said. "We have to see the movies. There's lots of people talking about the movies. In high school, they say, 'This movie is coming out,' and you have to keep up."

Internet fan reactions to the second of the three planned "Matrix" movies were mixed, but mostly positive. On Matrix, reviews were sprinkled liberally with the word "awesome" and multiple exclamation points. Initial disappointment didn't stop some fans from returning multiple times to report that they really started to like the film on the second or even third viewing.

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