With this week’s opening of Jackie Chan’s version of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” the film’s distributor, Buena Vista Pictures, continues a practice that is becoming routine: the Wednesday film launch.

Where films once traditionally opened on Fridays, and most still do, summer vacations, holiday breaks and Hollywood marketing games have conspired to make the Wednesday movie arrival a regular and largely seasonal occurrence.

Among the titles set to open on a Wednesday this summer are “Around the World in 80 Days,” “White Chicks” on June 23, “Spider-Man 2” on June 30, “King Arthur” on July 7, and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” on Aug. 11.

Earlier this year, expectant audiences saw Wednesday openings for films including “Shrek 2” and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” (In a stroke of divine marketing calculation, the latter opened on Ash Wednesday.)

The Wednesday treatment is generally reserved for event pictures or films with anticipated box-office appeal and ready-made audiences. Among the Wednesday openers in the past: each of the films in “The Lord of the Rings” cycle; the “Matrix” films; “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace”; “Terminator 2” and “Terminator 3”; “Armageddon”; “Independence Day”; “Men in Black”; and “Mission: Impossible.”

Jim Tharp, head of distribution at DreamWorks, which released “Shrek 2” on Wednesday, May 19, told boxofficemojo.com: “(‘Shrek 2′ is) a well-known movie, and we needed to get out in front of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”‘ (The latter opened 15 days later, on Friday, June 4.) If a Wednesday launch goes well, a film gets a jump-start on an opening weekend and develops momentum that can crest into big numbers come Saturday and Sunday.

In an industry addicted to bottom lines and opening-weekend grosses, studios pay scrupulous attention to a movie’s box-office performance as a means of gauging a film’s earning potential and box-office longevity.

Trade publications from Variety to Box Office to boxofficeguru.com typically break down a film’s performance, citing figures for its opening day, any given single day, the Friday-to-Sunday weekend, five-day grosses and ongoing cumulative totals.

By way of example, Yahoo! Movies reported last year: “The final installment in the “Lord of the Rings’ movie trilogy set a new box-office record for a Wednesday launch and posted the third highest opening-day gross of all time.” (The film earned $34.1 million in domestic markets on its opening day, Dec. 17, 2003.)

This spring, “Shrek 2” smashed the midweek box-office record for animated features when it opened May 19 and took in $11.8 million, $1.5 million more than the previous record holder, “Pokemon the Movie.”

But opening a film on a Wednesday is not without risks.

Take 1998’s “Godzilla” (directed by Roland Emmerich, who had a better Wednesday box office July 3, 1996, with “Independence Day”). “Godzilla,” a $120 million film, stomped into theaters Wednesday, May 20, and laid a big green lizard egg with critics and audiences alike. If the film managed to earn almost $75 million in its first six days, the numbers sagged below expectations.

The sages at boxofficeguru.com put it like this: “‘Godzilla’ left a giant footprint at the box office, though not nearly as mighty as the industry was expecting. … With enough hype to bring Mothra back to life, and a record-busting screencount, “Godzilla’ certainly had the necessary firepower going into its release to topple industry records. However, the updated monster movie fell far from reaching those goals.”

“Godzilla” took in $74.3 million in its first 6 1/2 days, but failed to outdo the competition-crushing performance set the previous year by another Memorial Day weekend opener, “Jurassic Park: The Lost World.” The Steven Spielberg dinosaur sequel, which opened on Friday, May 23, 1997, took in $92.7 million over 4 1/2 days.

So Wednesdays are not always the charm. They are simply another tactic in the always unpredictable game of film distribution, which still depends, more than most bean counters would like to admit, on the quality of the films being released.

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