A movie supposedly based on a true story and definitely custom-made for horse lovers Hidalgo ambles along at a leisurely pace taking a full two hours and 20 minutes to tell the story of a man Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen); his horse Hidalgo (T.J.); and their attempt to win the famed 3000-mile "Ocean of Fire" endurance race across the Arabian Desert in the 1890s. (We use the phrase "supposedly" true because although the filmmakers claim the story is meticulously researched certain Arab groups claim no such race ever existed. Certainly Hopkins himself lived but the rest is up for debate. Ah Hollywood can we not have one film this season that doesn't stir up controversy with someone?) At any rate Hopkins' reasons for entering the alleged race are many but mainly he's running from himself. The son of a Native American woman and a white man he's never been able to come to terms with his mixed heritage. Since the Ocean of Fire race has always been exclusively open only to a) men b) Arabs and c) purebred Arabian horses Hopkins' efforts to prove himself--and his mustang--form the movie's underlying theme which is typical Disney fare: It's not about who you are or where you came from; it's all about heart.
With his standout turn as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy Mortensen achieved heartthrob status but the big question everyone's asking about Hidalgo is whether or not he can carry a movie on his own. The answer is a resounding yes. When there's action to be had Mortensen looks like a real pro. He's got the cowboy drawl down pat; shoots a Colt .45 with confidence; delivers sharp one-liners like a kinder gentler Clint Eastwood; and has a great seat on a horse. Even when the movie gets a little slow--and it does a 3000-mile desert race will do that to a movie--Mortensen's onscreen appeal saves the day. There is of course a supporting cast of characters who either help our hero in his quest: Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) who challenges Hopkins to enter the race but ultimately becomes his friend and the Sheikh's daughter Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson) a rider herself but prohibited from entering because she's a woman. Obstacles of course also abound: There's Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) who needs her mare to win the race so she can breed her to the Sheikh's Arabian stud El Attal the purest stud of the purest bloodline in the world. She wouldn't mind if Hopkins dropped out of the race--or into her bed.
There's no question that director Joe Johnston's (Jurassic Park III) production of Hidalgo was a massive undertaking: Eight hundred horses plus camels vultures falcons rabbits goats dogs donkeys leopards and buffalo are featured in the film along with a re-creation of a Wild West show the massacre at Wounded Knee a locust swarm and a desert sandstorm. The locations spanned the globe from the Arabian Desert (shot in Morocco) to the sprawling ranchlands of the American West to the New York City docks. All in all it's a well put together visual display and like its star it feels authentic. The dialogue from scribe John Fusco (Young Guns I and II Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron) is engaging if occasionally a little sappy; the relationships (especially between Hopkins and Hidalgo) are meaningful and well presented; and the action scenes are fast-paced and exciting. Trouble is interspersed are somewhat long expanses of time during which too little actually happens which makes the film seem longer than it needed to be.
Moviegoers were still panicking this weekend, keeping Panic Room number one with $18.5 million.
High Crimes kicked off on a high note in second place with $15 million. Ice Age was third, melting only 21 percent with $14.3 million.
The Rookie was rounding the bases fast, down just 26 percent with $11.7 million in fourth place. National Lampoon's Van Wilder was partying in fifth place with $7.5 million.
The weekend's only other wide release Big Trouble was a troubled eighth with $3.7 million.
With no $30 million-plus openings, key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- did well, but fell short of the spectacular totals they'd achieved over the past three weeks. This weekend's $107.8 million total was down 14.5 percent from the prior weekend's $126 million. It was, however, up 19.6 percent from last year's $90.2 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia's R rated thriller Panic Room held on to the top spot in its second week with a still thrilling ESTIMATED $18.5 million (-38%) at 3,053 theaters (theater count unchanged; $6,060 per theater). Its cume is approximately $58.8 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Panic is only the third film this year to enjoy a second week in first place. The others were New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which had two weeks atop the chart, and Revolution Studios and Columbia's Black Hawk Down, which reigned for three weeks.
Panic's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"We're down only 38 percent, which certainly in today's world of 3,000 run openings is about as good as it's been in a while," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Asked where it's going, Blake replied, "I've got to admit, with this kind of great holding second week we're very optimistic that we just might make $100 million. That would certainly be a very exciting result on a $48 million negative picture -- which looks like it has great worldwide possibilities, as well."
Why is Panic doing so well? "We got a really nice adult bump on Saturday," Blake explained. "We were down only 26 percent and up 38 percent from Friday. That indicated, as we hoped, that this picture is really going to get widespread adult support. It is a great adult evening out, which certainly helps give a picture legs. Adults, as we all know, are a little harder to get and, perhaps, don't rush out the first weekend as much as you'd like.
"We are happy with the result that we are appealing young and old. We got the young audience we needed to open the movie to $30 million, but it looks like the adults are coming through to keep it holding."
Business, in general, continues to be strong. "Buoyant," Blake observed. "You've got four double digit films on top of the standings. There's no question about it, it's a great market and we're happy to be on top of it."
The strong March and early April box office should help generate interest in this summer's films, whose trailers are playing in theaters now. "Attached on Panic Room is the Jennifer Lopez thriller Enough, which opens May 24," Blake said. "There's no question about (that helping), just as Panic Room was attached to Black Hawk Down. We tend to get a little determined about (playing) trailers. There's no better way to get a company on a roll and keep them there and that's certainly what we hope to be on this year."
20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' PG-13 rated thriller High Crimes arrived in second place to an arresting ESTIMATED $15.02 million at 2,717 theaters ($5,526 per theater).
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
"We were hoping for $15 million," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday. "It's right where we'd like to be."
Asked who the film's audience was, Snyder replied, "58 percent female, 65 percent over 30. Adult female."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age fell one rung to third place in its fourth week with a still enviable ESTIMATED $14.32 million (-21%) at 3,200 theaters (-133 theaters; $4,473 per theater). Its cume is approximately $141.4 million, heading for $175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
"Audiences love it ," Fox's Bruce Snyder said. "It seems to withstand (competition as other) family movies have come in behind it and Rookie being a pretty strong movie, also. But, at the end of the day, they just like Ice Age. The characters are great. It's fun."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie slid one slot to fourth place in its second week, holding very well with an ESTIMATED $11.7 million (-26%) at 2,524 theaters (+13 theaters; $4,647 per theater). Its cume is approximately $35.0 million.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
Artisan Entertainment's opening of its R rated youth appeal comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder was celebrating in fifth place with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million at 2,022 theaters ($3,710 per theater).
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
"It's a very solid opening. We're very happy with it," Artisan domestic theatrical distribution president Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning. "We did exit polls and it appears that people really liked the movie. It's a very funny comedy and we're very happy with the way the film opened.
"In the Top Two boxes we have 78 percent excellent and very good (which) is definitely above the norms. As far as definite recommend, we were at 70 percent and the norm is 45 percent. So we were above the norms on definite recommend, as well. That leads us to believe that we should have good word of mouth going into next week."
As for demographics, "it's about a 60-40 split male to female," Rothenberg said. "And the audience was almost entirely made up of 18-to-34 year olds, which is not surprising."
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers dropped one peg to sixth place in its second week, showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-28%) at 2,563 theaters (+23 theaters; $2,848 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.5 million, heading for $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
"A very nice hold, actually, coming off the Good Friday holiday last week (when many schools were closed)," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "We took a big hit on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday held up very well. Pictures of this genre have an extended life. You can play the matinees and weekends -- like Jimmy Neutron, it's still in a number of theaters playing matinees. We could be looking at $40 million on (Clockstoppers), I think, over its lifetime."
New Line Cinema's R rated vampire thriller Blade 2 fell three rungs to seventh place in its third week with a less scary ESTIMATED $7.18 million (-45%) at 2,561 theaters (-146 theaters; $2,802 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.1 million, heading for $75 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it stars Wesley Snipes.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated comedy Big Trouble opened in eighth place to a troublesome ESTIMATED $3.7 million at 1,961 theaters ($1,865 per theater).
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, it stars Tim Allen, Omar Epps, Dennis Farina, Ben Foster, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Lee, Rene Russo, Tom Sizemore and Stanley Tucci.
Universal's 20th year anniversary reissue of its PG rated sci-fi fantasy drama E.T. fell three pegs to ninth place with a dull ESTIMATED $3.31 million (-46%) at 2,472 theaters (-535 theaters; $1,340 per theater). Its reissue cume is approximately $30.5 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Universal, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama A Beautiful Mind--winner of four Oscars, including best picture -- down two notches in its 16th week with an okay ESTIMATED $2.76 million (-29%) at 1,451 theaters (-109 theaters; $1,905 per theater). Its cume is approximately $165.2 million.
Directed by Ron Howard, the Brian Grazer production stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly.
This weekend also saw the arrival via Warner Bros. of The Saul Zaentz Company's Amadeus: Director's Cut reissue with an encouraging ESTIMATED $93,000 at 18 theaters ($5,152 per theater).
Directed by Milos Forman, produced by Saul Zaentz and written by Peter Shaffer, it stars F Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce and Elizabeth Berridge.
Sony Pictures Classics' R rated comedy Crush opened to a hopeful ESTIMATED $47,000 at 10 theaters ($4,697 per theater).
Written and directed by John McKay, it stars Andie MacDowell.
United Artists' reissue of The Last Waltz kicked off via MGM on the right foot at one theater in San Francisco with an ESTIMATED $16,000.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, Waltz is a musical documentary about the final concert of The Band.
Waltz waltzes into theaters in New York and Los Angeles Friday (Apr. 12).
Paramount and Miramax's PG-13 rated comedy Lucky Break arrived to an unlucky ESTIMATED $8,000 at 6 theaters ($1,338 per theater).
Directed by Peter Cattaneo, it stars James Nesbitt and Olivia Williams.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Monster's Ball went wider in its 15th week following Halle Berry's best actress Oscar victory with an okay ESTIMATED $1.56 million at 713 theaters (+37 theaters; $2,185 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.3 million.
Directed by Marc Forster, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger and Peter Boyle.
IFC Films' unrated erotic drama Y Tu Mama Tambien went wider in its fourth week with a still arousing ESTIMATED $1.1 million at 179 theaters (+128 theaters; $6,145 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.9 million.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein expanded in its fourth week to a still tempting ESTIMATED $1.01 million (+40%) at 319 theaters (+188 theaters; $3,150 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.3 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
"Jessica's done well," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "We had a nice fourth weekend. We expanded to 319 theaters this week. We were pretty much across the country. It's a very successful limited release for us and we expect to be playing for quite a few more weeks because particularly in the cities that we've been open in for four weeks -- New York and L.A. and Chicago and Boston and so forth -- it's held extremely well.
"It's playing very, very well. The recent markets have opened up not as proportionally strong, but very solid. So we're very pleased with how it's playing across the country."
Asked where it's heading, Gilula replied that while it's still early to say for sure, "I think that we are certainly going to get to $6-or-$7 million, but each week tells us a little more of the story. We expect to be playing through the spring."
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its seventh week with a still tasteful ESTIMATED $0.72 million (-10%) at 150 theaters (+10 theaters; $4,765 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.3 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Universal's international division reported Sunday morning that E.T. opened in 28 countries last weekend and has grossed $12 million to date.
The studio said E.T. is performing very well in Latin America, especially in Mexico where it ranked third in its second weekend. While results from Europe were mixed last weekend, midweek grosses there were strong thanks to school holidays.
E.T. arrives in Asia this week. It opens in Japan April 27.
Ali G Inda House, Universal's latest film from Working Title, is performing solidly in the U.K., grossing $11.3 million in 16 days on 394 playdates.
A Beautiful Mind, a Universal DreamWorks co-production that is being distributed by UIP for DreamWorks, got a big boost from winning four Oscars including Best Picture and has been up at the box office for the past two weeks.
Mind, which has been in release internationally for seven weeks, is still number one in Argentina. This weekend it ranked second in Brazil, third in Australia and Germany, fourth in Spain, fifth in Mexico and seventh in the U.K.
This weekend, Mind cracks $100 million at the international box office.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $107.8 million, up about 19.57 percent from last year when they totaled $90.15 million.
Key films this weekend were down about 14.45 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $126.0 million.
Last year, Dimension Films' second week of Spy Kids was first with $17.08 million at 3,133 theaters ($5,451 per theater); and Paramount's opening week of Along Came A Spider was second with $16.71 million at 2,530 theaters ($6,606 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $33.8 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $33.5 million.