Wednesday is the new Friday

More studios are choosing midweek to debut movies

June 22, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

There are still good reasons to thank a higher authority for Friday - it's the end of the workweek, the start of the weekend and, often, payday - but one of them is slipping away.

Friday is losing ground as the day when new movies arrive at the multiplex. Opening day for some major films moved to Thursday years ago and now has landed on Wednesday. Batman Begins opened last Wednesday. War of the Worlds opens next Wednesday. And Herbie: Fully Loaded makes its debut today.

"I think Wednesday, in some cases, is the new Friday," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box office revenue.

During the summer, when kids are home all week, it's silly to wait until Friday to open a children's movie like Herbie, Dergarabedian said. Also, if the movie proves popular, a Wednesday opening can generate good buzz for the weekend. And on the crowded summer movie calendar, a Wednesday debut can stave off the competition for at least a couple of days.

"It's a great summer strategy because people are available midweek in big numbers to see movies, so why not get it out there early?" Dergarabedian said. But he answered his own question: "A studio has to be pretty confident in a movie to release it on a Wednesday because if audiences are not responding to it and telling their friends not to see it, it can hurt the weekend."

Walt Disney Pictures, which moved up Herbie's opening date from Friday to today, says the film tested well with preview audiences and the studio is confident of good word-of-mouth. At an advance screening of the film Monday night at the Arundel Mills Muvico, the children in the theater cheered wildly during the climactic race scene and applauded at the end.

The Wednesday opening is "an opportunity to let the movie be the best marketing tool we could think of because it does play so well and audiences love it," said Dennis Rice, senior vice president of publicity for Disney studios. "As you get into summer, almost all of the kids are out of school. So every day is Saturday and good for family movies."

Rice also said Disney wanted to get Herbie out ahead of Bewitched, which opens Friday. With a larger share of a film's total box office now coming from its opening weekend, he said, it's even more important to score big right away if a film is going to make money.

Even a sure-fire hit like Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith shows how quickly a film can lose steam. Star Wars broke records by pulling in $158.5 million over its four-day opening weekend last month. But last weekend it made just $10 million.

Wednesday openings are also common in December, when studios are putting out their Academy Award contenders and much of the audience is off from work and school. All three Lord of the Rings movies opened on Wednesdays in December and did quite well.

"When you've got a lot of people out for the holidays, especially kids," Rice said, "you've got an opportunity to do some business midweek."

It's not as common to find midweek openings in the late winter, spring or fall. But there are exceptions: Beauty Shop, the comedy about an African-American salon, opened March 30, a Wednesday. Studios often release "urban films" - or those targeted at a black audience - on Wednesdays.

This trend began in the early 1990s after several instances of violence at Friday openings of films such as Boyz N the Hood and New Jack City. The violence, including shootings, often occurred in parking lots when people couldn't get into sold-out showings.

In response, studios quietly moved the opening dates for some urban films up to Wednesdays. Studio executives won't talk about that shift on the record.

Batman Begins made $15 million last Wednesday - the 11th-highest Wednesday opening in film history. (The No. 1 spot belongs to Spider-Man 2, which made $40 million on its opening Wednesday last summer.) Batman Begins went on to make $73 million over its first five days - a respectable, though not record-breaking, number.

"It always helps if you have the goods," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., which released Batman. "I call it leading with your chin. But if your movie isn't that strong and you get out there a little early, it's tough by the time you get to the weekend."

But with Batman, he said the franchise's strong fan base in the United States and good early buzz made a Wednesday opening an easy call. Also, the studio wanted the film to come out on the same day around the world. For such a global opening, the studio couldn't wait until Friday in the United States.

"We really felt it was wrong to let this great character, with a big fan base in the U.S., open anywhere in the world except the U.S. first," Fellman said.

And in the case of a movie like Batman, when the fanatics are guaranteed to show up on opening day, a midweek opening can leave open seats on the weekend for more casual fans.

"On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you have a certain number of seats, and if a movie's going to do really good, it's going to top out," said Jim Lee, director of marketing for Muvico Theaters. "If you open a couple days early, it may take the pressure off that opening weekend and you won't have people disappointed by sellouts."

Theater owners like midweek openings because business is usually slow during the week. And by spreading out the audience, they avoid a crush of fans on Fridays.

"In summertime, when you have a lot of films coming out, they back up," Lee said. "By opening early, you have a clear field."

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