EXTRA: High ‘Frequency,’ Low ‘Noon’

HOLLYWOOD, June 21, 2000 – Ever seen Final Destination or Frequency? If you haven’t, chances are someone within your rock-throwing range has. See, people — a lot of them, we might add — have been buying tickets to these films week after week after week, making them the year’s modest, if not surprise, hits.

Which bring us to this perplexing question: In a box-office world dominated by “M-I:2” blockbusters, how do you account for throwaway flicks (see opening paragraph) that somehow manage to hang around long enough to rake in the dough, while higher-profile flicks like Jackie Chan’sShanghai Noon” fizzle (relatively speaking) despite high expectations.

Just to get an idea of what we mean, consider this: It was just last weekend that the two-month-old “Frequency,” which bowed in the No. 3 spot on its opening weekend (not a super- strong showing), finally fell out of the Top 10. (Its gross to date: $41.7 million — phenomonal for a film headlined by “Couldn’t Even Get ‘Innerspace’ to Make Money” Dennis Quaid .)

But the leader of the pack is still the teen horror flick “Final Destination,” which has been selling a lot of popcorn for 15 weeks, grossing about $52 million so far (and that’s not counting international box office and/or merchandising revenue).

Not bad for a couple of films that everyone thought was going to fall quietly by the wayside.

“There’re a number of reasons why [films like those perform well],” says Gitesh Pandya, editor of the online box-office tracker, boxofficeguru.com. “The films are quality films to begin with. And the biggest reason is, of course, a good word of mouth — the most important and cost-effective tool the studios can use. And ‘Final Destination‘ and ‘Frequency‘ are two good examples of movies with legs.”

“Basically, these films came out, people liked [them] and told their friends about [them]. And New Line [the two films’ distributor] did a good job and handled the films very well. They offered sneak previews, which is what you do when you have film that you think people would like, but doesn’t have the necessary bells and whistles — like stars, or big explosions — to promote it. Having sneak previews is good way to get the film going, and they have them two weeks before their release.”

But how to account for the so-so showing of “Shanghai Noon,” which satisfies the above conditions: (1) it’s a good film (the critics liked it, at least); and (2) Jackie Chan is a likeable, name star. How come it’s only made “Frequency“-like money ($48 mil through Sunday)?

Says Pandya: “One of the biggest thing about ‘Shanghai Noon,’ regardless of quality, is that it opened at a very competitive time [opposite ‘M-I:2’]. It’s an action film — it doesn’t matter that it’s got jokes in it or that it’s set in the Old West — when people see Jackie Chan, they still think action film. And if you’re going to pay eight bucks to see an action film, you’re going to spend it on ‘M-1:2’ or even ‘Gladiator.'”

Pandya predicts the movie will end up with $60 mil at the domestic box office — “which is pretty good for a Jackie Chan film.”

But not as good as “Final Destination.”