Great Gatsby Box OfficeSATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 4TH UPDATE: There’s more good news at the box office for the start of Summer 2013. Domestic grosses for Warner Bros‘ The Great Gatsby (3,035 theaters) just keep going strong. Big online seller Fandango tells me this female-driven film is heading into Mother’s Day and ticket sales show no signs of flagging across the country from city to heartland. Despite audiences giving it a ‘B’ CinemaScore. In addition to moviegoers showing up dressed in 1930s period costumes, exhibitors are reporting some audiences spontaneously bursting into applause when Leonardo first appears on screen. (When’s the last time that happened?) That’s prompted some Hollywood execs to speculate this is the original Titanic crowd. Warner Bros hopes the Baz Luhrmann-directed, DiCaprio starrer “perfectly counter-programs” all the May action movies. My sources’ latest estimates for the 3D tentpole are $19.4M for Thursday/Friday, and -6% for $18M Saturday. Hollywood is expecting an overperforming $52M first weekend for the romantic drama co-financed by Village Roadshow and based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic novel. The #1 film is still Disney/Marvel’s Iron Man 3 (which has the biggest theater count at 4,253) with $19.7M Friday (-72% from last Friday’s huge opening) and a huge $33M Saturday for $75M this weekend. (Last year The Avengers made an incredible $103M in its second weekend…) Before Friday, IM3 grossed $794M — international cume $581.6M and domestic $212.4M. Now the North American cume should be $287.4M through Sunday. Yowza! The only other major newcomer is Lionsgate’s Peeples (2,031 theaters), a ‘Tyler Perry Presents’ comedy not written or directed by him but by Tina Gordon Chism. It received a ‘B-‘ CinemaScore and weak grosses even for a tiny budget of $15M: $1.1M Friday and $1.8M Saturday for a $4.2M weekend.

Gatsby‘s success might all seem surprising considering the film’s uneven reviews. Then again these critics — the vast majority white middle-aged men — are complaining about Luhrmann’s supposed “sacrilege” in adding hip-hop to Gatsby which of course is set in the decade dubbed “The Jazz Age”. Way to make themselves look old and out of touch. (Are these the same purists who piled on when Bob Dylan went electric? I found the music a fresh touch.) While Leo’s and Tobey Maguire’s performances are praised, Carey Mulligan’s is not. Then again there were misgivings in the media from the day the extravagant Baz project was first announced – the 4th attempt to film the novel after Warner Baxter starred in 1926, Alan Ladd in 1949, and Robert Redford in 1974. But tracking told a different story: it was strong from the day Lurhmann’s version co-scripted with Craig Pearce came on — especially heavy with females but also registering decently with men. The Great Gatsby kept improving its numbers as the full frills and very effective marketing campaign took hold. Even without P&A, the movie’s cost reportedly ballooned up to $200M. But Warner Bros claims that figure is $160M, which was brought down to $105M because of “tons of rebates” from Luhrmann’s Australia filming location. That was then split 50-50 between the studio and co-financier Village Roadshow. (Initially the budget was $80M when Sony passed, and then $120M when Warner Bros and Village Roadshow first came aboard.)

Every penny is on the screen with Catherine Martin, Luhrmann’s wife, in charge of costumes and production  design. Some still question the need for 3D but not if it allows the filmmakers to pocket those ticket premiums. As the media scrutiny became more intense, Luhrmann weathered heavy rain and fog that caused costly delays during filming in Sydney. A freak on-set accident even sent Luhrmann to the hospital, causing more holdups. That was before the studio pushed his Gatsby‘s release date back half a year from Christmas 2012 to Summer 2013 to finish effects and music and do reshoots. Luhrmann was conspicuously absent from March’s Gatsby-hyping CinemaCon for exhibitors because, as he said in a pre-taped greeting, he was still tweaking the pic weeks before release. Crunched for time, he couldn’t even fly back to Australia to direct the reshoots in person. Instead he Skyped in to direct from NY where he was simultaneously piecing together a re-edit.

Generating buzz internationally for this most American of novels, pic has scored the Cannes opening slot for a glitzy event. Warner Bros opens it wide in 49 territories next weekend, including France, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia and Korea.

Domestically, The Great Gatsby already is a $3.25M record-breaker, doing more Thursday 10 PM/Friday midnight business from approximately 2,000 theaters than three other recent female-driven films – overperforming Sex And The City 2 ($3M), the first Sex And The City ($2.5M), and Oz The Great And Powerful ($2M). Early matinees Friday were very strong with lots of pre-sales, too, as the lush 3D drama expanded into 3,535 locations (including over 3,000 3D locations in the mix) its opening weekend. The studio would have been thrilled with a $35M debut, but rival studios expected at least $45M-$50M. As of 5 PM Thursday, Gatsby comprised 67% of ticket sales despite Iron Man 3‘s continued momentum.

According to a Fandango survey of more than 1,000 Gatsby ticket-buyers, 83% said DiCaprio is the actor they most want to see in the film (8% said Carey Mulligan, 7% Tobey Maguire), 80% have read the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 61% consider themselves fans of director Luhrmann, 58% of those fans had seen Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, and 55% are planning to attend a Gatsby get-together either before or after seeing the movie. As for the film itself, 94% said the grand-scale imagery, costumes and set design inspired them to buy a ticket, and 83% said the film’s eclectic soundtrack with selections from Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Andre 3000 appealed to them.

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