Michael Jackson fans poured out of cinemas on Wednesday applauding the new This Is It movie of the late pop star's final concert rehearsals and ringing up sales at box offices worldwide.
Columbia Pictures, the studio behind the movie, said the film took in $2.2 million in late Tuesday night screenings in North America following its Los Angeles premiere, and early Wednesday matinee showings were surpassing that figure.
In international markets, where the film is expected to play strongly given the Thriller singer's huge global appeal, box office figures are still being collected, but early indications already reveal strong attendance, Columbia said.
Fan excitement at the heavily hyped release of This Is It was mixed with sadness that one of music's biggest stars and most troubled celebrities died before he could bring his live comeback to the stage.
This Is It was cut from 80 hours of film of the singer's rehearsals for 50 London concerts planned from July which he envisioned both as a return to the limelight after years of life as a recluse and a final farewell to live performance.
The nearly two-hour film features Jackson singing and dancing to some of his biggest hits, including Beat It, Thriller, Black or White and Man in the Mirror. Throughout the film, audiences see Jackson working with his singers and dancers to create a show that would wow his fans.
It's great! wrote Karen Portem on the Facebook social networking site, having seen the movie on its first day of release in the Philippines. But it's so sad to think that people ... aren't able to see M.J. perform it live.
Critics have been largely positive, describing the film as a fitting tribute to a star who fascinated the world with his slick dance moves and versatile vocals as well as his increasingly bizarre appearance and legal troubles.
By midday Wednesday, This Is It had scored an 79 percent positive rating on website rottentomatoes.com, which combines reviews from around the United States.
Entertainment Weekly magazine's Owen Glieberman gave the movie a grade of B, saying 'This Is It' is fun, but it's a slightly airless experience. If the movie allows you to bask in Michael Jackson's aura, it also uses his image to foster 'nostalgia' for a concert epiphany that never quite was.
LEGEND LIVES ON FILM
Jackson died suddenly on June 25 in Los Angeles at the age of 50 after suffering cardiac arrest only weeks before he was to have begun the This Is It concerts, denying him the chance to erase the stigma of a sensational 2005 trial when he was acquitted of child molestation charges.
He grew up as one of Motown legends The Jackson 5, made the gliding moonwalk famous the world over and still has the best-selling album of all time with his 1982 Thriller.
After a star-studded opening in Los Angeles Tuesday night and premieres in 16 other cities, the film began playing in 99 countries Wednesday and will expand to about 110 territories by the weekend.
In Tokyo, pop star and Jackson friend Lionel Richie said he hoped the movie would bring out the ordinary in Jackson.
The part that you're going to see tonight is the part of him being the real Michael, which is the hard-working guy but at the same time so easy to get along with -- the guy I know, he said.
Sony Corp's Columbia Pictures bought the film rights from concert promoter AEG Live for $60 million and has described ticket demand as phenomenal. Columbia has said the movie will be extended beyond its two-week run if ticket demand is high, and it plans a DVD release in 2010.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack to This Is It has generated sales roughly in the middle of expectations since hitting record stores Monday. Estimates suggest it should sell between 300,000 and 350,000 units in its first week, according to Silvio Pietroluongo, director of charts at Billboard magazine.
The final number depends on how many people see the movie and then feel inspired to buy the album, but regardless of the exact figure, Jackson certainly looks like being number one (on the charts) by a considerable margin, Pietroluongo said.