Plenty of Michael Jackson fans turned out for "This Is It" on Wednesday, but Sony Pictures may have to wait until Friday to find out whether the movie is a "Thriller" or "Bad" at the box office.
The documentary, a gamble for Sony that was assembled from more than 100 hours of video footage and rushed to the big screen after the singer's death in June, sold $2.2 million worth of tickets domestically at late-night screenings Tuesday, the studio reported.
According to industry executives who have been monitoring box-office returns, "This Is It" was on track as of Wednesday evening to collect $10 million to $12 million by the end of the day. A Sony spokesman declined to comment.
Comparisons with other movies are difficult, given that only two major films have been released in recent history by studios on a Wednesday outside of summer or the holidays. "The Passion of the Christ," a phenomenon that benefited from group purchases by churches, grossed $26.6 million in February 2004, and "The Matrix Revolutions," the third movie in a blockbuster trilogy, collected $24.3 million on its opening Wednesday in November 2003.
Thus far, it's unclear whether "This Is It" will be a blockbuster. The movie's big test will come Friday. Attendance today is expected to be light because most hard-core Jackson fans will have seen it opening day. Saturday will also be slow because it's Halloween, historically a dismal day at the box office.
If word of mouth is strong and moviegoers beyond the most devoted Jackson fans are interested, that probably will be evident in healthy ticket sales Friday.
Industry executives estimate, based on early data, that the movie could bring in anywhere from $30 million at the low end to $60 million at the high end through Sunday. The studio spent $60 million to acquire the rights and probably has spent tens of millions more on marketing.
Ultimately, however, domestic ticket sales may not be that important. "This Is It" is expected to perform substantially better overseas, where it could be a major hit regardless of how it does in the U.S. and Canada.
Box-office figures from the 97 foreign countries where "This Is It" opened simultaneously are not yet available.