MGM's Legally Blonde had the most fun at this weekend's box office, winning a record setting $20 million-plus verdict from moviegoers.
The PG-13 comedy's opening -- MGM's third number one launch this year after Hannibal and Heartbreakers -- generated an energetic ESTIMATED $20.4 million at 2,620 theaters ($7,767 per theater).
Directed by Robert Luketic, the Marc Platt production stars Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber and Jennifer Coolidge with a special appearance by Raquel Welch.
"In every measure, it's a great opening for MGM," MGM worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution president Bob Levin said Sunday morning. "It's MGM's fifth biggest opening of all time, the second biggest non-Bond opening, the biggest non-sequel opening and, of course, the (studio's) biggest comedy opening ever (after The Birdcage, which opened to $18.28 million the weekend of Mar. 8-10, 1996 at 1,950 theaters, averaging $9,372 per theater). So it's a great thing for MGM."
Pointing to comparisons that reviewers have made between Blonde and Paramount's 1995 youth appeal comedy hit Clueless, Levin noted that Blonde opened to about twice the gross that Clueless arrived to back in '95 when ticket prices were a little lower. Clueless grossed $10.61 million the weekend of July 21-23, 1995 at 1,653 theaters, averaging $6,420 per theater. It went on to gross $56.6 million in domestic theaters.
"In the sleeper summer movie department," Levin said, "it's bigger than Bring It On opened to last summer (via Universal to $17.36 million the weekend of Aug. 25-27, 2000 at 2,380 theaters, averaging $7,295 per theater), which was considered last summer's big sleeper. And against this summer's movies, it's a great comedy opening. It's bigger than The Animal, which was considered a real good solid summer opening (from Revolution Studios and Columbia to $19.61 million the weekend of June 1-3 at 2,788 theaters, averaging $7,034 per theater). So we're really thrilled in all those comparisons."
Blonde, which MGM sneak previewed very successfully the previous weekend, opened considerably stronger than insiders with an eye on the Hollywood radar screen had anticipated.
"This $20 million was a number that showed up as a possibility early in the day on Friday," Levin explained, "but what none of us would say out loud (because it was) such a number beyond what everything we had collected as information suggested we could do. We were looking at, 'Well, maybe we could do $15 million if we really cooked.'
"The concern was, would the movie start to really slow down (where) you'd go into the 10 o'clock shows on Friday night and they'd be empty. That didn't happen. The movie's got a great under and over 21-year-old profile. And that's what really helped us. It didn't turn into just a little teenybopper kind of movie."
Looking at the studio's exit polls, Levin said, "There were more females certainly in the audience, but it plays to everybody and plays outrageously well to young females."
Asked how they liked it, Levin replied, that the overall audience total in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) was about 85 percent. "Young females in their Top Two Boxes are a 95 percent," he said. "The older females Top Two Boxes are 85 percent (a lower score which is) to be expected. What's great is the young and older males are above norm. The young males are close to 75 percent and the older males are close to 75 percent. And the definite recommend (for) young females is close to 80 percent, older females are slightly over 70 percent and males (younger and older) are both right on 55 percent, which is the high end of the norm.
"Sometimes you get what looks like a female movie and the guys who show up just go, 'I was dragged here. I hate this movie.' And on the male movies, you get women who (feel the same way and) the guys love it and the females don't. This has tremendous potential for word of mouth with that kind of strength among the females and the males going, 'It's okay.' That's great."
Looking ahead, Levin said, "The biggest competition probably comes next weekend with (Revolution and Columbia's opening of) America's Sweethearts (the romantic comedy directed by Joe Roth and staring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack). We've got to get through that. But with this word of mouth, I think this is hopefully one of those (pictures) that not only sort of surprises people in the power of its opening, but gets a little battle resistant. It can survive the hits (from other films opening) and just keep on coming back."
Blonde points the way to a strong balance of the year for MGM. "I think we're looking to the future," Levin said. "This is really about the past being behind us and the future looking really good."
Paramount's R rated crime drama The Score kicked off in second place to a solid ESTIMATED $19.0 million at 2,129 theaters ($8,924 per theater).
Score's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Frank Oz, it stars Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett and Marlon Brando.
"It's above our expectations here actually," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "$15-18 million was the tops that I had it (projected at). We exceeded where I thought we would be."
Looking ahead, Lewellen pointed out, "The picture plays very well, we know from past screenings. The fact that there's not a lot of 'intelligent adult movies' in the marketplace versus the popcorn movies that are out there (means that) it's got a chance to run a while."
Cats & Dogs, the PG rated family appeal comedy from Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment fell two pegs to third place in its second weekend with a still lively ESTIMATED $12.0 million (-45%) at 3,040 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,947 per theater). Its cume is approximately $58.9 million.
"Coming off a Fourth of July holiday opening, it's right where we want to be," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning.
"I think we're definitely going to make $100 million-plus (in domestic theaters). I'm looking at different comparisons out there. George of the Jungle opened in the summer and the first 12 days had $48 million in. So we've got 'em by $10-11 million. This picture plays like the weather report. A little nasty weather and, boom, the moms are taking those kids there in five minutes. They like it. So we'll be in great shape with it."
Also working in Cats' favor, Fellman said, is that "There's really nothing coming in (like it). We positioned this movie so we were the last young movie of the summer. The first one looked (like it would be) Shrek and, of course, Shrek took on a life of its own. It's starting to dwindle out. Of course, Atlantis is over now. So that just leaves Shrek and Cats & Dogs. I don't think our (very young) audience is there for Jurassic Park III. Our movie's really (young kids who are) hand-holders. So we're a little bit in a zone of our own. I think we'll be around for quite a while."
Columbia's release of Square Pictures' PG-13 rated computer animated sci-fi fantasy adventure Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within arrived in fourth place to a less spirited than hoped for ESTIMATED $11.5 million at 2,649 theaters ($4,341 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $19.1 million.
"Clearly, we're disappointed especially off the expectations set by (having opened to) a $5 million Wednesday," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "I think it was set up pretty well, but at the end of the day did not expand as you normally would expect off that kind of opening number. Obviously, there was some fan interest that crowded the theaters (on Wednesday) a little beyond what happened over the weekend. So I think we had a bit of an inflated Wednesday that set our expectations up a little higher than what we actually ended up doing, but we still did do $19 million for five days."
And with that $19 million already in, Blake said, "now you'd like to think it's going to continue to be sampled. As I look at some of the theater grosses, clearly there's the normal multiplexes, but there's also (some very strong situations). The East Side of New York did quite well because, I think, some of the pieces that have appeared (about the movie's special effects) in the New York Times and elsewhere have piqued curiosity beyond the usual core science-fiction audience. It clearly didn't play as a frenzied science-fiction choice, but it played pretty widely. Hopefully, that will allow it to last a little longer than what you'd usually expect (from) a science fiction property."
Sony has distribution worldwide except for Japan of Fantasy, which Square Pictures reportedly made for $115 million. "It is a distribution deal for us," Blake pointed out, explaining that Sony is "in for prints and ads. Our responsibility is the marketing and distribution costs."
Despite the disappointing domestic launch, Blake added, the film's international ticket sales are off to an encouraging start. "We had strong number one openings in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, the first three international markets we opened," he said. "So I still think this could be an important franchise around the world. The total story is not told (by the domestic opening)."
Dimension Films' R rated horror film spoof sequel Scary Movie 2 fell three notches to fifth place in its second week with a less scary ESTIMATED $9.5 million (-54%) at 3,220 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,950 per theater). Its cume is approximately $52.9 million.
Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, it stars Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Christopher Masterson and Kathleen Robertson.
"I think (it should get domestically) to between $70-75 million," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning.
Universal's PG-13 action drama The Fast and the Furious fell one slot to sixth place in its fourth week with an okay ESTIMATED $7.88 million (-36%) at 2,904 theaters (+106 theaters; $2,715 per theater). Fast, which cost a modest $38 million, has a cume of approximately $115.4 million.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.
20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment's PG rated comedy sequel Dr. Dolittle 2 dropped one rung to seventh place in its fourth week with a slower ESTIMATED $7.0 million (-33%) at 2,826 theaters (-202 theaters; $2,465 per theater). Its cume is approximately $84.3 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Steve Carr and produced by John Davis, it stars Eddie Murphy.
20th Century Fox's R rated action drama Kiss of the Dragon slid four posts to eighth place in its second week with a dull ESTIMATED $5.82 million (-56%) at 2,100 theaters (+75 theaters; $2,770 per theater). Its cume is approximately $24.0 million.
Directed by Chris Nahon, it stars Jet Li and Bridget Fonda.
Warner Bros. and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy adventure A.I. Artificial Intelligence plunged six pegs to ninth place in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $5.13 million (-63%) at 2,830 theaters (-412 theaters; $1,811 per theater). Its cume is approximately $70.0 million, heading for $80 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Steven Spielberg, it was produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg and Bonnie Curtis. Starring are Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson and William Hurt.
"I'm sure (you're aware of) the success that it's had overseas, which is really terrific," Warners' Dan Fellman said, pointing out that Warners is distributing A.I. worldwide. "In Japan alone the picture's going to do $90 million or maybe more. On a global basis, it's going to be a big success.
"You have to remember that Steven made this movie as a legacy to Stanley (Kubrick) and Stanley's biggest movie in the U.S. was Eyes Wide Shut at $55 million. His next biggest movie in the U.S. was Full Metal Jacket at $46 million. Then The Shining at $41 million. So this movie is going to hit $80 million. It really is a Stanley kind of film. The curiosity still exists. That's why I think we'll be able to get $10-12 million, maybe $13 million more out of it (domestically). We'll hang in there."
Rounding out the Top Ten was Paramount and Mutual Film Company's PG-13 rated action adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, down three slots in its fifth week with a quieter ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-41%) at 2,164 theaters (-846 theaters; $1,848 per theater). Its cume is approximately $122.6 million, heading for $130 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Simon West, Tombstars Angelina Jolie.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Artisan's R rated comedy Made with an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.12 million at 3 theaters ($39,069 per theater).
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Sean Combs, Famke Janssen, Faizon Love and Peter Falk.
Lions Gate's unrated drama Bully opened to an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.057 million at 6 theaters ($9,520 per theater). Directed by Larry Clark, it stars Brad Renfro.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Fox Searchlight's R rated critically acclaimed British crime thriller Sexy Beast continue to widen in its fifth week, still holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $0.51 million (-31%) at 179 theaters (+45 theaters; $2,821 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.9 million. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, it stars Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley.
Miramax's R rated French comedy The Closet went wider in its third week with a still encouraging ESTIMATED $0.3 million (+37%) at 43 theaters (+27 theaters; $7,405 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million. Directed by Francis Veber, it stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte and Michele Laroque. "We'll probably add about another 30 to 40 runs this Friday," Miramax's David Kaminow said.
Fine Line Features' R rated comedy The Anniversary Party went wider in its sixth week with a less charming ESTIMATED $0.27 million (-37%) at 118 theaters (+12 theaters; $2,285 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.0 million. Written/directed by and starring Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, its ensemble cast includes Jane Adams, Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, , Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C. Reilly.
Lions Gate Films' PG-13 rated drama Songcatchercontinued to widen in its fifth week with a soft ESTIMATED $0.17 million (-26%) at 72 theaters (+5 theaters; $2,405 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.9 million. Directed by Maggie Greenwald, it stars Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.
Lions Gate Films' unrated erotic drama Lost and Delirious added a theater in its second week, going nowhere with an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.024 million (-41%) at 8 theaters (+1 theater; $3,055 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.087 million. Directed by Lea Pool, it stars Piper Perabo.
Miramax's R rated comedy Everybody's Famous widened in its second week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.018 million at 10 theaters (+6 theaters; $1,800 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.055 million. Written and directed by Dominique Deruddere, it stars Josse De Pauw.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $116.03 million, down about 20.76% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $146.43 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 8.46% from last weekend this year when key films took in $126.75 million.
Last year, Fox's opening week of X-Men was first with $54.47 million at 3,025 theaters ($18,007 per theater); and Dimension Films' second week of Scary Movie was second with $26.2 million at 3,152 theaters ($8,311 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $80.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $39.4 million.