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Movies Will Have to Hit the Screens Running This Summer

15 May, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

We live in an era of frontloading. This is the weekend of The Matrix Reloaded, and I'll bet everything I own that this is going to be the biggest opening of any movie, ever. Warner Bros. reportedly spent in excess of $100 million on marketing alone, money one would think would hardly be needed for a film that has generated so much advance buzz.

The Matrix revolutionized filmmaking when it hit theaters several years ago, and its style, special effects and “look” has been copied by so many other filmmakers, TV producers and even commercial directors that the film's very name has become an integral part of our pop culture.

Opening-weekend crowds would likely have set a record anyway, even without the pricey Warner blitz, but this sort of hype is almost obligatory in an era where openings keep getting bigger and bigger and the studios, who keep a higher percentage of the dough the first few weeks a movie screens, don't want to risk leaving anyone unaware of the exact date, time and place of the initial showing in cities, towns and hamlets all over the country.

A similar thing, of course, is happening in video. New releases are blistering hot their first week in stores, but by three weeks they've cooled sufficiently to the point where a growing number of retailers are already selling off used rental copies (I refuse to use the term “previously viewed,” just like I hate car dealers trying to pass off used cars as “previously owned”).

Well, I predict this trend will accelerate, both on the theatrical front and in home video, and that The Matrix Reloaded will be a watershed event. From this point forward, the hype won't focus on the first few weeks of release, or even on the first week, but on the opening weekend. Throughout this summer, what in the past was a battle over total grosses will be a frenzied fistfight over bragging rights for opening weekend box office figures.

And, unfortunately, we're going to see a lot more good movies fall through the cracks, because, quite plainly, there's no longer going to be any breathing room, no more strong second-, third- or fourth-place finishes—just one clear winner, and a bunch of also-rans.

Come fall, we're going to see a similar phenomenon hit video — at least, in terms of hype. Hopefully, however, consumers will be so sick and tired of the “I've gotta be first in line” syndrome that they won't be suckered in and will instead base their buys and rentals on what they truly like, instead of what they're told to like.

But maybe that's wishful thinking.

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