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'Pirates' Eclipses 'Spider-Man 3' With Record Theater Count

Even before it opened, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" already had one box-office record in hand.

The third film in the "Pirates" franchise officially opens Friday in an all-time high of 4,362 theaters domestically, 110 more than the previous record-holder, "Spider-Man 3."

Released by the Walt Disney Co., "Pirates of the Caribbean" now aims to snatch back the record for best debut it lost this month to "Spider-Man 3," the Sony Corp. blockbuster that pulled in $151.1 million over opening weekend.

That debut shattered last summer's record of $135.6 million set by "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

The length of "At World's End" -- two hours, 47 minutes -- will be a hurdle, limiting the number of screenings theaters can fit in each day. The movie runs about 15 minutes longer than "Dead Man's Chest" and nearly half an hour longer than "Spider-Man 3."

"At World's End" also faces stiffer competition than "Spider-Man 3," which had no other big movies to contend with when it opened May 4. Besides "Spider-Man 3," the animated blockbuster "Shrek the Third" will be competing with "At World's End" for audiences.

Along with the higher theater count, "At World's End" has the advantage of opening over the Memorial Day weekend, which should boost its Sunday grosses since movie-goers have the day off Monday.

That gives the "Pirates" sequel a better chance to beat the Friday-through-Sunday receipts for "Spider-Man 3," which opened over a non-holiday weekend.

To get a jump on the official release date Friday, many theaters scheduled early screenings of "At World's End" at 8 p.m. Thursday. Once it opens, the movie will be running around the clock at some cinemas to meet audience demand, said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney.

"We hear there are theaters that once they open tonight will be open for 24 straight hours," Viane said Thursday.