Universal launched "U-571" to over $20 million, sinking its Easter Weekend box office competition.
Hollywood had anticipated big action from the PG-13 World War II submarine drama given its 17% first-choice tracking score going into the weekend.
"U-571" sailed full speed ahead into 2,583 theaters with a killer ESTIMATED $20.28 million ($7,850 per theater). Its per theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, "U-571" stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi.
"This is a tremendous opening for a film of its nature," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "It's the biggest submarine film (opening ever). It's bigger than 'Crimson Tide.' It's bigger than 'Hunt For Red October.' Jonathan Mostow is a very talented director, who was able to give audiences a thrill ride. The exit polls were all outstanding, indicating that audiences are going to embrace this film for weeks to come."
New Line's kick off of "Love & Basketball" was a high-scoring number two with a winning ESTIMATED $8.38 million at 1,237 theaters ($6,770 per theater).
The PG-13 rated drama is targeted to under-25 African-Americans.
Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, it stars Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan.
Referring to last week's 15% first-choice tracking scores, which had suggested an even stronger opening, New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning, "Before all this started with the tracking, we thought we'd be between $8-9 million. The tracking got us hyped up.
"Also, almost everybody's down from Friday to Saturday. We should have a big Sunday. Traditionally, African-Americans like to go to the movies on Sunday."
Facing direct competition from "U-571" for adult male moviegoers, Paramount's R rated military trial drama "Rules of Engagement" fell two notches in its third week but held its own very well with an ESTIMATED $8.0 million (-27%) at 3,220 theaters (+30 theaters; $2,484 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.0 million.
Directed by William Friedkin, it stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson.
"Frankly, I thought we'd be down a minimum of 35%," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "Our mid-weeks last week were exceptionally strong. So I think we're (heading for) $60-65 million."
Columbia's PG-13 rated dramatic comedy "28 Days" skidded two rungs to fourth place in its second week, holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $7.4 million (-28%) at 2,523 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,933 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.2 million.
Directed by Betty Thomas, "Days" stars Sandra Bullock and Viggo Mortensen.
"I think down 28% is a nice drop," Sony Pictures releasing president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Probably, we'll have over $25 million in by the end of the second week. So certainly it seems on course to do over $40 million. That'll make us some money. We'll be a little ahead of our production costs. I think Sandra Bullock really remains very reliable (as a star whose movies audiences want to see)."
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy "Keeping the Faith" dipped two slots to fifth place in its second week, holding strongly with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-10%) at 2,158 theaters (+6 theaters; $3,386 per theatre). Its cume is approximately $18.7 million.
Directed by Edward Norton, it stars Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman and Norton.
Universal's "Erin Brockovich" fell one notch to sixth place in its sixth weekend, still holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $5.55 million (-21%) at 3,056 theaters (-14 theaters; $1,815 per theater). Its cume is approximately $107.4 million.
The R rated dramatic comedy was co-financed by Universal, which is distributing it domestically, and by Columbia, which is releasing it internationally. The two studios are 50-50 partners in the picture.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it stars Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckart.
DreamWorks' PG rated animated comedy "The Road To El Dorado" dropped two rungs in its fourth week to seventh place with a still colorful ESTIMATED $5.1 million (-17%) at 3,170 theaters (-53 theaters; $1,609 per theater). Its cume is approximately $41.8 million.
Directed by Eric "Bibo" Bergeron and Don Paul, it features the voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante and Edward James Olmos.
MGM's PG rated romantic comedy "Return to Me" slid two slots in its third week to eighth place with a quiet ESTIMATED $3.8 million (-24%) at 2,320 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,640 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.0 million.
Directed by Bonnie Hunt, "Return" cost only about $24 million to make. It stars David Duchovny and Minnie Driver.
Universal's PG-13 rated thriller "The Skulls" slipped one notch to ninth place in its fourth week with a slow ESTIMATED $2.83 million (-30%) at 2,047 theaters (-362 theaters; $1,380 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.4 million.
Directed by Rob Cohen, it stars Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker.
Rounding out the Top Ten was New Line's R rated suspense thriller "Final Destination," down one peg in its sixth weekend and holding well with an ESTIMATED $2.78 million (-9%) at 1,305 theaters (-204 theaters; $2,126 per theater). Its cume is approximately $42.8 million.
Directed by James Wong, it stars Devon Sawa.
Last weekend also saw the arrival of Warner Bros.' R rated youth appeal drama "Gossip" with little to talk about in 12th place with a disappointing ESTIMATED $2.34 million at 1,525 theaters ($1,534 per theater).
Directed by Davis Guggenheim, it stars James Marsden, Lena Headey, Norman Reedus, Kate Hudson, Marisa Coughlan and Joshua Jackson.
Paramount Classics' R rated drama about teen suicide, "The Virgin Suicides" went into limited release, placing 20th with a sexy ESTIMATED $0.24 million at 18 theaters ($13,460 per theater).
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett.
Saturday night saw two rounds of national sneak previews. New Line held 1,200 sneaks of its PG-13 rated time travel thriller "Frequency." It was the film's second set of Saturday sneaks, following 800 well-attended showings one week earlier.
"They were better than last week. We're trying to figure out exactly how much better," New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said. "My fax broke down this morning and (with the opening of 'Love & Basketball') that's why I'm running so late."
Directed by Gregory Hoblit, it stars Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel.
"Frequency" opens Apr. 28 at about 2,500 theaters.
There also were Saturday night sneaks of 20th Century Fox's comedy drama "Where the Heart Is." No details were available Sunday morning.
Directed by Matt Williams, it stars Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusack.
"Heart" opens wide Apr. 28.
On the expansion front, Miramax's R rated comedy "East Is East" went wider in its second week, placing 21st with an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.22 million at 18 theaters (+14 theaters; $12,111 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Produced by Leslee Udwin and directed by Damien O'Donnell, "East" stars Om Puri and Linda Bassett.
"It will go into about 35 runs next Friday," Miramax senior vice president, marketing, David Kaminow said Sunday morning.
USA Films went wider with its R rated drama "Joe Gould's Secret," placing 22nd in its third week with a slow ESTIMATED $0.089 million at 26 theaters (+10 theaters; $3,430 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 millio .
Directed by Stanley Tucci, it stars Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $84.41 million, up about 47.49% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $57.23 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 10.67% from this year's previous weekend, when key films grossed $76.27 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' fourth week of "The Matrix" was first with $12.64 million at 2,903 theaters ($4,355 per theater); and Universal's second week of "Life" was second with $11.26 million at 2,597 theaters ($4,335 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $23.9 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $28.6 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Universal was first with three films ("U-571," "Erin Brockovich" and "The Skulls"), grossing an ESTIMATED $28.65 million or 33.9% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney, Touchstone) was second with three films ("Keeping the Faith," "High Fidelity" and "Fantasia 2000"), grossing an ESTIMATED $11.60 million or 13.7% of the market.
New Line was third with two films ("Love & Basketball" and "Final Destination"), grossing an ESTIMATED $11.15 million or 13.2% of the market.
Paramount was fourth with one film ("Rules of Engagement"), grossing an ESTIMATED $8.00 million or 9.5% of the market.
Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia, TriStar, Screen Gems) was fifth with one film ("28 Days"), grossing an ESTIMATED $7.40 million or 8.8% of the market.
DreamWorks was sixth with two films ("The Road To El Dorado" and "American Beauty"), grossing an ESTIMATED $6.50 million or 7.7% of the market.
(11)American Psycho/Lions Gate: Theaters: 1,242 (+5) Gross: $2.7 million (-45%) Average per theater: $2,176 Cume: $9.7 million
(12)Gossip/Warner Bros.: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(13)High Fidelity/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 1,231 (+2) Gross: $2.3 million (-14%) Average per theater: $1,869 Cume: $21.2 million
(14)Fantasia 2000/BV/Disney: Theaters: 53 (-1) (all IMAX) Gross: $2.0 million (+36%) Average per theater: $38,632 Cume: $45.9 million (domestic)
(15)Romeo Must Die/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,439 (-385) Gross: $1.42 million (-47%) Average per theater: $983 Cume: $52.2 million
(16)American Beauty/DreamWorks: Theaters: 1,130 (-337) Gross: $1.4 million (-30%) Average per theater: $1,239 Cume: $127.0 million
(17)Where the Money Is/USA Films: Theaters: 1,538 (0) Gross: $1.33 million (-47%) Average per theater: $865 Cume: $4.7 million
(18) Ready to Rumble/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,672 (-913) Gross: $1.01 million (-63%) Average per theater: $601 Cume: $11.3 million
(19)My Dog Skip/Warner Bros./Alcon Ent.: Theaters: 937 (-86) Gross: $0.59 million (+3%) Average per theater: $630 Cume: $32.4 million
(20)Mission to Mars/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 508 (-254) Gross: $0.4 million (-40%) Average per theater: $795 Cume: $58.8 million
(21)THE VIRGIN SUICIDES/Paramount Classics: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(22)East Is East/Miramax: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(23)Joe Gould's Secret/USA Films: (see EXPANSIONS above)
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Step right in. We have recognizable has-beens to suit your every entertainment need. Looking for the leading-man type? We have great deals on Eric Roberts, Patrick Muldoon, Kiefer Sutherland and Dean Cain. In the market for a tough guy? Take your pick of Ray Liotta, Roy Scheider, Michael Ironside and other fine choices. We have leading ladies, too -- Morgan Fairchild, Jennifer Beals and Ally Sheedy.
What's that? You say these guys are box-office poison? Guess again. Even though they were scratched off the Hollywood A-list a while ago, these names still mean something in places such as Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan. And if you'd dropped in here at the weeklong American Film Market, or AFM, wrapping up today, you'd realize that being big in the Netherlands might not be glamorous, but it's nothing to sneeze at.
Case in point: Jeff Fahey.
You might remember Fahey from his supporting roles in movies such as "Silverado" and "Wyatt Earp," or maybe even "The Lawnmower Man." But you might not know that Fahey is a certifiable movie star overseas, top-billed in dozens of thrillers and action films (search the Net and you'll find numerous Web sites paying homage to the hard-working actor). Strolling through the hallways of the Loews Hotel, where distributors at the AFM hawk their wares, you'd have seen posters for some of his latest: "The Sculptress," "Blind Heat" (co-starring the venerable Maria Conchita Alonso) and "Epicenter."
"Jeff's got a lot of movies out there right now," says Anthony J. Lyons, vice president of IFM Film Associates, an Aussie company based in Los Angeles that makes movies for $1 million to $3 million. "He's an internationally known actor, and he's not too expensive to get. Rather than charge $200,000 for one movie, he might charge you $50,000, but he'll get 20 movies instead of two. These days you need known actors to sell your films overseas, and Jeff is a good value."
How many times have you heard an actor praised as a "good value?" Money talks at the AFM, and Fahey is a favorite son here because his films fall into those tried-and-true genres (action movies, thrillers, lowbrow comedy, T-and-A, horror/sci-fi) that cross cultural and language barriers. These kinds of movies appeal to the dozens of international distributors who come here each year looking for stuff to buy. Films that will go straight to video or cable TV in the United States (that is, if they are released here at all) but can pull in a nice chunk of change in overseas markets.
The foreign rights to about 350 movies were up for grabs at this year's AFM, and an estimated $400 million in deals were made. Not all the films represented were of the low-budget, guns-and-car-crashes, monsters-and-scantily-clad-babes variety. TFI International was peddling foreign rights to "The Golden Bowl," the forthcoming Merchant-Ivory production starring Uma Thurman and Anjelica Huston; the new Roland Joffe movie "Vatel," with Thurman, Gerard Depardieu and Tim Roth, was also advertised, as was "Brother," the new movie from Japanese director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano.
But it was loads more fun to troll the market for the wreckage of once-thriving acting careers. There was Judge Reinhold from the "Beverly Hills Cop" movies, heading up a slam-bang actioner called "Crackerjack 2: Hostage Train," from North American Releasing. Reinhold plays Jack Wild -- no, not the guy from H.R. Pufnstuf -- a "rogue cop with a mission ... obsessed with capturing the notorious Hans Becker, a '60s-style Red Brigade type who has transformed himself into a '90s-style terrorist for hire," or so says publicity materials from the production. The film co-stars Michael Sarrazin as the bad guy. (Curiously, Reinhold did not appear in "Crackerjack 1," nor is he in the forthcoming "Crackerjack 3." Really.)
Other blasts from the past who have become AFM stalwarts include Steve Guttenberg, who gets the Most Interesting Title award for his directorial debut, "P.S. Your Cat is Dead!" Guttenberg is billed by the film's backers as the "acclaimed star of several billion dollars worth of top box-office and critical winners." Elsewhere, another company was dealing a different Guttenberg film, "Second Chance," a comedy with an all-star lineup of Pauly Shore, Robert Wagner and Tim Conway (no word, however, if Conway did the film in his ever-popular "Dorf" disguise).
If the definition of celebrity is skewed a bit in the films paraded here, the same can be said for the event itself. The American Film Market isn't a film festival -- there are no awards ceremonies, no paparazzi stampedes, and although there are premieres, they don't include big red-carpet entrances for celebrities.
It's not unusual for workaday actors such as Eric Roberts or Gary Busey to show up and do a little press for one of their films here, and they can walk through the hotel without being hassled. And you don't hear about wild antics on the after-hours party scene here. This is about as racy as it gets: One night last week, Jamie Kennedy (the film geek from the "Scream" films) got lost while walking around in search of the buyers' party for "The Specials," his new low-budget superhero comedy -- and he had to ask a bystander for directions.
"I've been to a few festivals before, but I've never been to something quite like this, which is pure marketing," said "Star Trek" actor George Takei, who was here promoting an as-yet unmade sci-fi film, "Overload," made by and starring a crew of former child actors including Tony Dow ("Leave It To Beaver") and Bill Mumy ("Lost in Space"). "But I know what the rules of the game are. I'm here to help sell the movie, which is something I never did with 'Star Trek.'"
If they ever hand out a lifetime achievement award to an actor at the AFM, it should probably go to Karen Black, the veteran of "Five Easy Pieces," "Nashville," "Airport 1975" and other 1970s classics who still works constantly, albeit in the relative obscurity of low-budget offerings, including many titles up for grabs at the market in recent years.
Black does it all -- from children's films ("Malaika," a movie about an elephant), to boring dramas about people over 40 ("The Donor," with David Carradine) and soft-core stuff (such as "Dinosaur Valley Girls," a movie from a few years back, in which she wore a loincloth) -- which makes her a fine role model for some of the other actresses such as Jasmine Guy, Carol Alt and Tahnee Welch following in her footsteps at the market.
"Karen is making a comeback, believe it or not," said Eric Louzil, president of RHG/Lions Share Pictures, which is peddling an independent film called "Oliver Twisted," in which Black stars. "... I've seen her name in quite a few films lately. She's quite a talent."
And at the AFM, a little talent goes a long way.
Psychiatric nurse Maggie O'Connor (Kim Basinger) raises her drug-addicted sister's baby who grows up to be a girl with "special" gifts like the ability to rock a dead bird back to life. When Cody turns 6 her mother returns to claim her. The trouble is mom is now married to Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell) leader of a Satanic cult masquerading as a self-help group. Stark wants Cody to use her powers for the "dark side " and will kill her if she refuses. Aunt Maggie enlists the aid of FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits) to help her track down and save Cody.
Basinger 's passive bearing and scrubbed-down glamour seem out of place in the dingy New York settings. When Stark's snarling teenage-runaway groupies attack her they seem as angry at her smooth blond coif as anything else. Sewell does what he can with lines like "death would be a kinder fate" and "she will be ours" (this last line uttered while practically shaking his fist at the heavens). Vastly underused is Smits whose all-talk-and-no-action FBI agent wouldn't have lasted a day in "NYPD Blue's" precinct.
Although director Chuck Russell captures a rich textured look and lays on the ghoulish special effects (a river of red-eyed rats ominous whispers wraithlike demons) "Bless the Child" doesn't generate any real chill. It's not helped by the script which throws in every clich‚ possible about angels demons hellfire and brimstone. There's no avoiding comparison with "The Sixth Sense " the success of which surely must have put some heat under this project. Unfortunately it's a little too cooked.
The second feature in the planet-conquering Japanese franchise opens with an all- Pokémon all-gibberish short feature that will have parents reaching for the Tylenol even sooner than expected then we cut to the main adventure titled "The Power of One." A scheming Pokémon Collector named Jirarudan begins snatching up winged Poki with the power to control fire lightning and ice destabilizing Earth's weather patterns. It's up to brave young Pokémon Trainer Ash Ketchum his chubby yellow pocket monster Pikachu and their friends to put things right.
It's a sad state of affairs when voice actor Ikue Otani manages to steal the show chirping his character's name over and over as the floppy-eared lightning-tailed Pikachu. The thespians lending their vocals to the human characters have less chance to be impressive saddled as they are with the film's clumsy English translation of Pokémon arcana and the occasional witless pun.
Kunihiko Yuyama's team puts no special stamp on the series' generic Japanese toon work which bears a closer resemblance to primitive TV fare in the "Speed Racer" or "Astro Boy" vein than the cutting-edge artistry going into modern anime epics such as "Princess Mononoke." Computer-rendered shots of Jirarudan's elaborate flying fortress and churning ocean waves are impressive in themselves but they clash with the traditionally animated material. Not that the grade school-age target audience is likely to mind.
Nerdy emotionally underdeveloped Buck (Mike White) and music biz yuppie Charlie (Chris Weitz) were best friends in their youth but they haven't seen each other in years when they meet at the funeral of Buck's mother. Incorrectly assuming that their relationship will pick up where it left off the jealous-minded obsessive Buck trails Charlie back to L.A. doing his best to lodge himself between his weirded-out old pal and Charlie's more understanding fiancee (Beth Colt). In the process we learn exactly how intimate "Chuck" and Buck were as lads.
The decision to cast filmmakers with little acting experience in several key roles is a gamble that doesn't exactly pay off. White a TV writer-producer who also penned "Chuck & Buck's" screenplay is an engagingly offbeat unnerving presence as Buck but he doesn't have the chops to keep building the performance over a 95-minute film. "American Pie" producer Weitz is stiff and unnatural as Chuck. His brother and directing partner Paul Weitz is better as a meathead actor Buck hires for a small play he produces.
Miguel Arteta ("Star Maps") shot his ultra-cheapie second feature on digital video and the crude results are little better than a home movie. Arteta and White manage to save the project however with their surprisingly dark view of Buck who gets more and more interesting as he gleefully subverts the contemporary Hollywood stereotype of geeks/gay men as the noble victims of macho abuse.