'Star Wars' Sets Online Records

It doesn't open until midnight tonight, but the new "Star Wars" movie, "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," already has set records online at both Fandango and America Online's Moviefone.

Moviegoers using Fandango have purchased 60 percent more advance tickets for the new installment in the "Star Wars" saga than the previous record-setter, "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," a Fandango spokesman said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, at Moviefone, the "Star Wars" section of the site--which includes features such as director George Lucas and actor Hayden Christensen interviewing each other about the movie--has drawn more than 56 million page views. Combined with the number of streams of the trailer--11.4 million since it was posted in March--the movie accounts for unprecedented activity at the site. "It's doing much better than anything we've ever seen before," said Steven Yee, AOL vice president and general manager for Moviefone.

In its first week on Moviefone, the "Star Wars" trailer was streamed 3.1 million times--twice as many as the 1.4 million streams of "Lord of the Rings" in its first week, Yee said.

By Tuesday, both Moviefone and Fandango--which has a relationship with Yahoo!--had sold out of tickets for some midnight shows in key cities, such as New York and Los Angeles. While absolute numbers weren't available on Tuesday, a Fandango spokesman said that "Star Wars" tickets accounted for 98 percent of all tickets in the week preceding May 16. At Moviefone, 65 percent of the tickets sold for the week ending May 15 were for "Star Wars," said a spokeswoman.

At the same time, the advance ticket sales and premiere streams downloaded don't necessarily mean that the movie will end up raking in more than other blockbusters at the box office. The increased streams could be due to other factors, such as the growth of broadband between the end of 2003, when the "Lord of the Rings" trailer debuted, and the present, Yee said.

Additionally, Moviefone consumers are researching showtimes at around the same rate as with other blockbuster movies. "It's basically performing on par in terms of number of showtime lookups--which is a good barometer of how many people want to see the movie," Yee said.