Moviegoers are so hot for "The Matrix Reloaded" that Warner Bros. has scooped its Thursday opening with Wednesday previews, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The paper also reported Tuesday that the sequel to the 1999 Keanu Reeves-Laurence Fishburne sci-fi action picture is virtually certain to record the highest opening weekend ever for an R-rated film when it opens on more than 8,400 screens. The current record holder is "Hannibal," which opened with $58 million in 2001.
According to the Times, some box-office analysts think "The Matrix Reloaded" will gross up to $150 million by Sunday night. That would beat the previous Wednesday-Sunday record of $110.1 million, grossed last May by the PG-rated "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones."
Warner Bros. executives said tracking polls show an unusually high interest in the movie among ticket buyers -- even higher than what was recorded last year for "Spider-Man," which sold $114.8 million worth of tickets on its opening weekend.
Veteran Hollywood producer Joe Roth ("Daddy Day Care," "Angels in the Outfield") told the paper he's never seen tracking numbers like this.
"I've never seen interest like this across every single group -- where a 10-year-old boy is as interested in seeing this movie as a 54-year-old woman," said Roth. "There's absolutely no weakness."
WHAT ARE 'FRIENDS' FOR?
NBC is looking for Super Bowl-type ad revenues from the two-hour series finale of "Friends" in May 2004, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Ad buyers told the paper the network is asking for $2 million per 30-second spot on the show. As a rule, a 30-second spot on "Friends" sells for about $450,000.
NBC is planning a major hype for the show's final prime time season -- including an invitation for viewers to choose their six favorite episodes, which would be televised in the weeks leading up to the last episode. The Reporter said sponsors willing to pay $2 million for a commercial on the series finale would likely be offered other promotional tie-in opportunities.
BURT REYNOLDS' NEXT
Burt Reynolds has signed with ESPN Classic to host "Reel Classics," a weekly series of sports-themed movies, according to a report in Daily Variety.
Beginning on Oct. 26 with a screening of his 1974 football-prison drama "The Longest Yard," Reynolds will introduce weekly screenings of sports movies, including "All the Right Moves," "Hoosiers," "The Karate Kid," "A League of Their Own," "Major League" and "Raging Bull."
For "The Longest Yard," Reynolds will share stories with viewers about his role as quarterback on a team of convicts in a high-stakes game against a team of prison guards. Crowley Sullivan, head of programming for ESPN Classic, told Variety he hoped Reynolds will capitalize on his show business connections to bring guests onto the show.
His wish list included Robert Redford, whose "The Natural" is scheduled to air around opening day of the 2004 baseball season, and Sylvester Stallone, whose five "Rocky" movies will run in sequence on ESPN Classic next year.
THE THINGS EDDIE MURPHY PASSED ON
Eddie Murphy says he could have starred in "Ghostbusters," "Rush Hour," and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" if only he'd exercised better judgment about his projects.
Murphy -- who has starred in his share of blockbuster movies ("Shrek," "Beverly Hills Cop") -- told the syndicated TV show "Extra" he was offered "Rush Hour," but decided instead to play an over-the-top TV evangelist in "Holy Man."
"It's funny when I think of it now," said Murphy. "It was like, 'You can go jump all over California with Jackie Chan or go to Miami and wear a robe for three months.' I went to Miami and you see the results."
Chris Tucker wound up sharing the screen with Chan in "Rush Hour" and "Rush Hour 2."
Murphy said he turned down "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" because he thought the movie would be a disaster. Now he feels like "an idiot" every time he sees it.
He was working with Dan Aykroyd on "Trading Places" when Aykroyd told him he was writing a movie about ghosts.
"I was like, 'This sounds like a crock ... to me,'" said Murphy.
The comic-actor's new movie "Daddy Day Care" opened with more than $27 million, reversing a 2002 slump in which "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," "I Spy" and "Showtime" under performed at the box office.
VANESSA L. WILLIAMS IS 'BOOMTOWN'-BOUND
Vanessa L. Williams will join the cast of "Boomtown" when the show begins its second season on NBC this fall.
The series is produced by Graham Yost ("Speed," "Band of Brothers") and Jon Avnet ("Fried Green Tomatoes," "Uprising").