‘Eclipse’ Maneuvers to Beat the 2nd-Sequel Jinx

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The early plan: Walmart, Imax and, possibly, a sneak peek on the Oscars

Though “Eclipse” is yet four months away, the marketing machine around the third installment of the hugely successful “Twilight” franchise is already up and buzzing.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Summit Entertainment could drop “Eclipse” into theaters, practically unannounced, and expect brisk business. But despite its swooning, demographically homogenous and well-connected fan base, the film has some hurdles to clear if it hopes to match the more than $705 million that the first sequel, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” made in theaters last November.

(Read also: "Is There a ‘Twilight’ Afterlife for Pattinson, Lautner and Stewart?")

For one thing, this is the first “Twilight” movie to come out in the traditional summer blockbuster season. By its June 30 release date, “Eclipse” will already be crowded by heavyweights such as” Iron Man 2,” “Sex and the City 2,” “Shrek Forever After” and “Toy Story 3.”

And contrary to conventional wisdom, sequels are not always a sure thing – especially No. 3. While there is little chance of “Eclipse” turning into a “Godfather III” flop, many a franchise has reached its sell-by date before its last offering. (Read: "6 Reasons ‘Twilight’ is Doomed".)

For example, “Matrix Revolution” came out November 5, 2003, and made just over $427 million – far less than its predecessor “Matrix Reloaded,” which made almost $743 million worldwide. The reason: “Reloaded” is widely considered to have soared significantly from its 2003 summer release and an aggressive marketing campaign.

And there’s just such a plan for “Eclipse.”

Mixing old fashion retail hype with social networking to stoke it’s ravenous fans, here’s what Summit has in store to ensure maximum bang and bite for their multi-million dollar buck.

1. TRAILER TEASE: It’s a no-brainer to show the first trailer for “Eclipse” in theaters with the opening of “Remember Me” on March 12th. Another Summit film starring Robert Pattinson, "Remember Me" will surely see an opening-weekend boost from those rabid “Twilight” fans. Summit also teased on Twitter that “Eclipse” fans should “stay tuned for more information on where you can see it earlier that week.” What could they be hinting at?

The winner is … the Oscars, on March 7. There’s precedent for this theory: Summit officially debuted the “New Moon” trailer at last year’s MTV Awards, and brought Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart to the show to introduce it. If Summit, which declined to comment on trailer possibilities, was looking to have an even bigger impact with “Eclipse,” where would they show it? Gee, maybe where Lautner and Stewart will be that weekend — presenting at the Academy Awards?

2. LEAK A PEEK: First it was the “Eclipse” poster that got lots of eyeballs when it showed up at the American Film Market in Los Angeles in early November of 2009, promising a far darker day in Forks, Wash. (it was officially revealed on the Twilight Tracker iPhone App on Nov. 19, the day before “New Moon” opened in theaters). 

Then late last year, after filming on “Eclipse” had wrapped in late October, photos from the movie started showing up online. Just over a week ago, a batch of photos showing Pattinson and Stewart in an intimate embrace from “Eclipse” appeared to make the rounds … until Summit Entertainment demanded that the various sites take the leaked images down.

Summit, taking with the one hand, was giving with the other. Newly authorized “Eclipse” images are now out there of the “Twilight” lovers tenderly kissing in a field of flowers. These are not to be confused with the images of the actors themselves cavorting around in an are-they-or-aren’t they real-life romance that has tormented the tabloid press since "Twilight" first opened.

3. TAKE IT TO THE IMAX: On December 9, 2009, just before “Avatar” exploded onto screens, Summit announced that “Eclipse” would be the first "Twilight" film to be shown in IMAX. While it’s doubtful that even a re-mastered “Eclipse” will replicate the success of “Avatar” in the enhanced format, it certainly turns up the prestige and volume in the crowded summer season. 

4. WALMART: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … but you might want to enhance it with the world premiere of seven minutes of scenes and interviews from "Eclipse." Which is exactly fans will find on WalMart’s exclusive “The Twilight Saga: New Moon Ultimate Fan Edition” DVD.

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the promotion book, selling one property on the back of a successful another one — but that doesn’t mean there won’t be packed crowds outside over 2,600 WalMarts on March 20 when this special version of “New Moon” goes on sale.

While coming out five days after the actual new moon on March 15, this “Eclipse” tease has been planned for months. “With the success of the ‘Twilight’ DVD release last year at Walmart,” Melissa O’Brien, WalMart’s entertainment spokesperson told TheWrap, “we quickly began working with Summit Entertainment to figure out how we could bring to fans something truly unique and engaging this year for the ‘New Moon’ DVD release.”

Along with the DVDs, there will be “Twilight” pop-up stores selling exclusive T-shirts, jewelry and other merchandise planned in mid-March for WalMarts across the country. That means lots of “New Moon” and “Eclipse” stories on local, network and cable TV. 

Add to that the endless rotation on the likes of “Entertainment Tonight,” MTV and “Access Hollywood,” and you have a winning lottery ticket of free publicity for both the DVD and the new movie.

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