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NEW 'MATRIX' THE TICKET FOR FANS ONLINE ADVANCE SALES HIT HIGH GEAR.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

``The Matrix Reloaded'' won't hit theaters until next week, but fans wanting to make sure they have tickets for opening night are already snapping up advance tickets from the movie industry's three major online ticket sellers.

Current box office champion ``X2: X-Men United'' jump-started the current online surge that has been kicked into even higher gear by the demand for ``Matrix,'' which hits theaters Thursday.

The services Fandango Inc., MovieTickets.com and AOL MovieFone began selling advance tickets last week and their representatives said Thursday the response has been unprecedented for an early summer release.

``Based on our advance ticket patterns for other blockbusters, we believe the movie should be an all-time best seller for us,'' said Steven Yee, vice president and general manager of AOL Movies and MovieFone. ``It has one of the highest tracking levels that we've ever seen for a film, and it also has an audience that is very comfortable with ticketing online.''

The Warner Bros. release starring Keanu Reeves is a sequel to the hugely popular 1999 sci-fi thriller ``The Matrix,'' which grossed $171.4 million domestically and enjoyed even more popularity internationally and on home video.

For Santa Monica-based Fandango, ``Matrix'' is by far the top seller this week even as ``X2'' is No. 1 at the box office. Art Levitt, president and CEO of Fandango, said hard-core fans who don't plan ahead ``will probably find a 'sold out' sign for this one.''

``It has clearly been the most anticipated movie of the summer and the year, and is exceeding any advance sales for any other movie in May,'' Levitt said. ``There's a huge amount of excitement for it.''

The fast-growing ticket sales niche first exploded in fall of 2001 with sales for ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'' and ``The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'' and saw their popularity solidified last year on the strength of ``Spider-Man'' and the latest installments of the ``Lord of the Rings,'' ``Star Wars'' and ``Harry Potter'' franchises.

For a modest service fee, fans eager to see a blockbuster at their preferred time and place are able to select a film, plan where and when to see it, and buy tickets in advance by ordering them online or by telephone with a credit card.

Stuart Halperin, executive vice president of marketing for MovieTickets.com, said the current burst of business is proof that the summer movie season has begun in earnest.

```X2' surpassed even our highest expectations and has jumped into MovieTickets.com's all-time top 10 for ticket sales,'' Halperin said. ``Advance ticketing for 'The Matrix Reloaded' is also very strong, and we expect this film to battle 'X2' as the box office leader for the early summer season.''
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 9, 2003
Words:460
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