"My little monkey," as Universal's head of distribution, Nikki Rocco, referred to "King Kong" the day after Peter Jackson's latest pet project arrived in theaters, "is doing great."
"King Kong" grossed approximately $9.8 million on its opening day Wednesday, Rocco said, including midnight shows in many theaters.
The film took in an additional $8 million in 36 foreign markets, the studio reported Thursday. Universal is opening the movie virtually worldwide, with an additional 19 territories this weekend. The movie topped the box office in every market where it opened Wednesday, a Universal spokesman said.
Although far from setting any kind of domestic record for a Wednesday, "it's a good place to be," Rocco said.
"Everything that we know -- in terms of tracking and reviews -- leads to the picture being a huge success," she added. "Sometimes a movie that opens soft on a Wednesday will surprise you on the weekend."
Executives at rival studios, contacted before "Kong" opened, all predicted the film would take in $60 million to $80 million for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and $100-plus million for the first five days.
Conventional wisdom has it that a Wednesday opening dilutes weekend numbers, but many films with high expectations riding on their midweek openings have done quite well.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," the first of "Kong" director Jackon's preceding trilogy of films, took in $18.2 million on its opening Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2001, and grossed 4.1 times that amount, $75.1 million, in its first five days on its way to a domestic total of about $315 million. Another highly anticipated film, "Shrek 2," took in $11.8 million on Wednesday, May 19, 2004, in what at the time was perceived as a disappointingly soft single-day premiere, but its five-day multiple was 10.9 times that, or nearly $129 million, according to box office tracking service Nielsen EDI. Likewise "The Polar Express," which grossed just under $2.6 million on its opening Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2004; its five-day total of $30.6 million was nearly 12 times that number.
Hollywood's ArcLight had the No. 1 engagement in the country, Rocco said, selling out three midnight shows. Elsewhere, she added, "weather wasn't so good," and school was still in session Wednesday in most of the country, but "as of Monday, 41.7% of schools will be out in the U.S. and Canada," greatly increasing the available moviegoing audience.
" 'King Kong' jump-started the business last night," Rocco said. "This little monkey is going to have long, long legs and will be around for quite some time."