The weekend's biggest success story was Warner Bros.' well attended sneak previews Friday and Saturday night of Castle Rock Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama Hearts in Atlantis, directed by Scott Hicks (Shine) and starring Anthony Hopkins.
Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington, several studios decided to pull films from this weekend's release schedule. Two movies that had loomed as strong box office contenders were suddenly seen as having inappropriate content--Warner Bros.' police corruption drama Training Day, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke; and Buena Vista/Touchstone's comedy Big Trouble, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Tim Allen and Rene Russo.
In the absence of any strong new arrivals, Paramount's PG-13 rated urban appeal drama-comedy Hardball easily held on to first place with an okay ESTIMATED $8.2 million (-13%) at 2,210 theaters (+73 theaters; $3,710 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.4 million.
Hardball's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in over 500 theaters this weekend.
"It held up very well," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "Obviously, we're very pleased with it. I think it's the kind of movie, a feel good movie, that [works well because] of everything that's going on right now. It's also a good movie. It plays very well to the audience."
Asked where it's heading, Lewellen replied, "Right now, with this strong a hold I think it's in the $40 million-plus range."
Ticket sales by key films--those grossing $500,000 or more for the weekend--were approximately $52.9 million, down only about 5.6 percent from the comparable weekend last year's total of $56.1 million. The relatively modest drop from last year suggests that moviegoing did not fall dramatically this weekend and that had there been stronger films entering the marketplace, ticket sales would most likely have been up from last year.
In fact, looking back at this weekend last year, the top grossing film then was Columbia's Urban Legends: Final Cut, which opened to only $8.5 million, very much in line with this year's first place Hardball gross of $8.2 million.
Dimension Films' PG-13 thriller The Others rose three pegs to second place in its seventh week, still showing great legs with an ESTIMATED $5.2 million (+13%) at 2,801 theaters (-42 theaters; $1,856 per theater). Others, which cost only $17 million to make, has a cume of approximately $80.2 million, heading for $90 million or more in domestic theaters.
"In its seventh week it's the highest it's ever been in the Top Ten," David Kaminow, senior vice president, marketing for Dimension's parent company Miramax, said. "We're sneaking Serendipity next weekend both Friday and Saturday and, obviously, we'll sneak [in theaters playing] The Others. So that will help (boost the thriller's cume). $85 million seems ridiculous (as a projection now and $90 million-plus seems more likely)."
Asked about the film's recently increased television advertising, Kaminow explained, "That was kind of always the plan just in terms of looking at the competitive landscape. We came in on Aug. 10 and we knew that if we could get it into the fall we would still have a couple of solid weeks into September before [the arrival of strong new competition]. This [coming] weekend will be the first time it's really going to face [major competition] between the Michael Douglas movie (20th Century Fox and Regency's thriller Don't Say a Word) and Zoolander [from Paramount, directed by and starring Ben Stiller] and Hearts in Atlantis. In the planning process, this was always on course. It, of course, exceeded expectations. But our goal was to keep it going. The way we released it, starting on 1,600 screens and adding 400 more [the next weekend] was really sort of building and building and building. I think it's a nice model [to use but] you have to have the movie to do it with, though, so it doesn't burn itself out."
Kaminow also pointed out that Others' success adds strength to Nicole Kidman's prospects as an Oscar and Golden Globes best actress contender. "It's great for Nicole," he said. "We definitely think she has a campaign ahead of her."
Columbia's PG-13 rated suspense thriller The Glass House fell one rung to third place in its second week with a slower ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-23%) at 1,591 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,766 per theater). Its cume is approximately $11.7 million.
"It's a nice small movie that has taken advantage of a pretty soft marketplace and looks like it could get to $20 million," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Universal and Miramax's PG-13 rated action adventure acquisition The Musketeer fell one notch to fourth place in its third week with a less rousing ESTIMATED $3.51 million (-36%) at 2,500 theaters (+24 theaters; $1,405 per theater). Musketeer, which Universal picked up for North America for only about $3.75 million, has a cume of approximately $22.6 million, heading for $30 million in domestic theaters.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated action comedy blockbuster sequel Rush Hour 2 rose one rung to fifth place in its eighth week with a solid ESTIMATED $3.65 million (-11%) at 2,129 theaters (-137 theaters; $1,714 per theater). Its cume is approximately $215.7 million, heading for $220-225 million in domestic theaters.
"It keeps rolling along," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "This is actually what our game plan was--that it would roll all the way through September."
Asked if the fact that Rush 2 is a comedy is helping it during these troubled times, Tuckerman replied, "I think so. I think that the fact that it's a comedy (is a plus) and you just go in for an hour and a half and have a good time. There's nothing else to think about. It's very simple and very funny. I think there are a lot of people in the country who are interested in not thinking about things."
Tuckerman pointed out that other comedies are also benefiting from the public's desire for escapist entertainment these days: "Rat Race is continuing to play well. And American Pie 2 has continued (doing well). They're still stuck in the Top Ten. It looks like [people] are looking for comedy."
Bel-Air Entertainment's R rated drama Rock Star, distributed by Warner Bros., which was tenth last week, tied for sixth place in its third week. Rock got a big boost from Warners' well attended sneaks Friday and Saturday of Castle Rock Entertainment's Hearts in Atlantis.
Thanks to those sneaks, Rock looked a lot livelier with an ESTIMATED $3.2 million (-6%) at 2,162 theaters (-363 theaters; $1,480 per theater). Its cume is approximately $15.4 million.
"We had the best sneaks, I think, in the history of Warner Bros.," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "There were 510 sneaks and we were 85 percent capacity. We had 94 percent in the Top Two boxes (excellent and very good). [The audience was] 53 percent female and 47 percent male. And, of course, Rock Star was the beneficiary of that. Rock Star moved from number ten to [tie for] number six."
Hearts opens this Friday (Sept. 28). "We had planned to open at 1,200 theaters, but due to the great reaction and response from our campaign--and, by the way, [Warner Bros. creative advertising executive] Jim Fredrick did a great job--we're probably going to be in close to 1,700 theaters now," Fellman said. "We bought the (additional) prints anticipating a good weekend. We're thrilled that it was well attended, but we didn't expect it to be that [exceptionally] strong."
Fellman agreed that it helped that many people were looking for something new to see this weekend. "And they loved it," he noted. "It's a feel good movie. It comes in at the right time."
Focusing on the health of the current marketplace, Fellman pointed out, "The marketplace being only 16 percent behind last year for the 13 pictures we track is an indication that the marketplace is stronger than we [think it is] because the major companies moved pictures away from this period. We were going to open Training Day this weekend and we moved it back. The tracking is huge. What these numbers show is that without any very strong films in the marketplace, people still went to the movies. There was nothing new that opened [wide] this weekend except Glitter."
Sony's Screen Gems label's R rated urban appeal romantic comedy Two Can Play That Game, which was fourth last week, tied for sixth place in its third week with a less playful ESTIMATED $3.2 million (-31%) at 1,308 theaters (+11 theaters; $2,446 per theater). Made for only $6 million, its cume is approximately $18.2 million, heading for the mid-$20 millions in domestic theaters.
Paramount's PG-13 comedy Rat Race rose one rung to eighth place in its sixth week, still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $3.0 million (-16%) at 2,417 theaters (-78 theaters; $1,241 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.6 million.
Where is Race heading? "Between $55-60 million," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I think it's got a shot at $60 million."
MGM's Jeepers Creepers, the R rated horror film from the studio's United Artists label, fell one notch to eighth place in its fourth week with a less scary ESTIMATED $2.79 million (-27%) at 2,576 theaters (-271 theaters; $1,083 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.6 million.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Universal's R rated youth appeal comedy hit sequel American Pie 2, down two pegs in its seventh week with a less stimulating ESTIMATED $2.65 million (-27%) at 2,117 theaters (-222 theaters; $1,250 per theater). Pie 2, which cost about $30 million to make, has a cume of approximately $139.6 million, heading for $145 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by J.B. Rogers, it stars Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Eugene Levy.
This weekend also saw the arrival of 20th Century Fox and Columbia's PG-13 rated musical drama Glitter out of the Top Ten with a tarnished ESTIMATED $2.5 million at 1,202 theaters ($2,080 per theater).
Also arriving was 8X Entertainment's PG-13 rated sequel drama Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, which failed to set the world on fire with an ESTIMATED $1.4 million at 315 theaters ($4,350 per theater).
This weekend saw Warner Bros. hold sneak previews of Castle Rock Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama Hearts in Atlantis. For details see comments above by Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman in connection with Rock Star, the film whose theaters were used for the Hearts sneaks.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw MGM's hit comedy Legally Blonde go wider in its 11th week, providing some light entertainment for moviegoers wanting to escape briefly from television news.
The PG-13 comedy's expansion generated a sexy ESTIMATED $1.3 million at 1,304 theaters (+649 theaters; $998 per theater). Its cume is approximately $92.1 million.
MGM's release of United Artists' R rated youth appeal comedy Ghost World continued to widen in its tenth week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $0.38 million (even) at 128 theaters (+26 theaters; $2,916 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.7 million.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $52.92 million, down about 5.6 per cent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $56.06 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 11.06 percent from last weekend of this year, when key films took in approximately $59.5 million.
Last year, Sony's opening week of Urban Legends: Final Cut was first with $8.51 million at 2,539 theaters ($3,350 per theater); and Warner Bros.' opening week of its reissue of The Exorcist was second with $8.18 million at 664 theaters ($12,313 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $15.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $13.4 million.