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THURSDAY AM UPDATE: The line forms for the 12:01 AM Thursday showing of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz. And it keeps going, and going… (Photos by Jim Stevenson)

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WEDNESDAY: Forget all the hype. What matters is the Memorial Day weekend box office gross for Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull which opens at 12:01 AM Thursday in 4,260 theaters in North America and also day and date in 61 territories overseas (but not Japan). Let’s first look at domestic, where this Steven Spielberg/George Lucas tentpole is gonna be mega-hit. (Like, duh.) The only question is how BIG a hit. A record-breaker after 19 years in absentia? Maybe. But there’s some tough competition for that if you play the stats game of splitting hairs. (Which is why, increasingly, box office is becoming like baseball. Oh joy.)

Indy 4 debuts for a full 5-day holiday weekend, among the best of all circumstances. Which is why informed guesstimates from my box office gurus are ranging from a low of $142 million to a high of $175 million for the well-reviewed PG-13 adventure pic. I think the answer lies somewhere in-between — around $160M. Then again, that’s not taking into account how movie theaters are raising ticket prices by a dollar or two this summer because popcorn is more expensive. (According to news reports, next year’s corn stocks are expected to plunge to a 13-year low, corn-futures contracts have soared to an all-time high, and the sudden demand for ethanol will claim 40% of next year’s corn crop. Even the paper for the popcorn tubs is more expensive. So the profit margins at theaters which rely on concession sales for as much as 45% of their revenue have to make up the difference somehow.)

I’m told Paramount is noting a little weakness in the tracking among teens. But that’s more than made up, I’m also assured, by the eagerness of adults: the problem is that those older moviegoers generally wait until the 2nd or 3rd weekend to screen this kind of flick. The best 5-day opening ever was the humongous $172.8M recorded by Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith from 2005; then again that pic finished out the prequel trilogy. The best Memorial Day Weekend was posted last summer by Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End which also completed a trilogy; its 4 1/2-day opening posted a gargantuan $153.0 million and its 5 1/2-day figure was $160.8M. Still another number to consider is what Spider-Man 3 did during its first 5 consecutive non-holiday days last May (non-holiday): $169.4M.

Globally, the record number floating around is a high-wire act of $400+ million. For Summer 2007, both Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 verbally sparred over which set the worldwide debut total. But Pirates 3 also opened day and date in over 100+ foreign territories, way more than Indy 4. Do any of these records really matter when Paramount is having such a great start to its summer what with blockbuster Iron Man already passing $200M? Why, of course — for bragging rights. And Paramount insiders are telling me they feel it in their bones that Indy 4 can break some records “because the world loves this guy and this franchise”. But nothing can or should diminish the welcome comeback of this modern classic.