Driven by strong openings for 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' Don't Say A Word, Paramount's Zoolander and Castle Rock and Warner Bros.' Hearts In Atlantis, ticket sales for key films soared about 34 percent over the previous weekend when no high profile films arrived.
Key films--those grossing $500,000 or more for the weekend--were up a healthy 24 percent versus the comparable weekend last year.
Insiders looking at Hollywood's advance radar screen had anticipated lively business this weekend thanks to the three major new arrivals, but they expected the youth appeal comedy Zoolander to finish first.
The inside word had been that Word's plot about a young child falling into the hands of some nasty kidnappers would hurt its ticket sales because adult women find such stories too frightening and audiences in general might not want to see a brutal gang of kidnappers in action so soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Clearly, moviegoers responded to Fox's strong marketing campaign for Word and to the Kopelson Entertainment production, itself. Word's word of mouth over the weekend was strong with the film's gross jumping about 29 percent from Friday to Saturday.
The weekend's other wide opening, Hearts, had been expected to do well, but not to open as strong as Zoolander because its primary appeal is to adults, who typically take longer than teens to make the time to see new movies.
THE TOP TEN
20th Century Fox's opening of Regency Enterprises and Village Roadshow Pictures' R rated edge-of-your-seat thriller Don't Say A Word easily captured first place with a sizzling ESTIMATED $18.0 million at 2,803 theaters ($6,422 per theater).
Word's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"I am really delighted," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "I was looking at $15 million and I would have been happy. $18 million is wonderful! What a weekend. Zoolander was great. Hearts In Atlantis is strong. Everything is very solid."
Snyder agreed that it appeared that Americans decided to go to the movies this weekend. "That's what it does look like," he said. "And I think it was about quality more than anything else."
Focusing on Word's weekend, Snyder pointed out, "It had a nice pop from Friday to Saturday. It was a strong Friday. We opened to $5.93 million. We've got Saturday at $7.47 million, up 26 percent. That's very nice for a big opener. Zoolander did the same (sort of increase), by the way. People are going back to the movies."
As for those who speculated that this was the wrong time to release an intense thriller like Word, Snyder observed, "I think quality won out in the end. I was concerned about all of those things that you just mentioned. I didn't know how it would play out and I am delighted to see that the American public said, 'We're going back to our lives.' And it's not just in Don't Say A Word, it's in the business being up (based on Fox's Sunday morning estimates) 20 percent from last year against a $20 million-plus opener (last year) in Remember the Titans. To have this going on is terrific. The public is saying, 'We're going to lead our lives.' If this is an indication of that, then that's wonderful for the country."
Of course, the fact that Word works as well as it does is an important factor in its success. "Quality came out," Snyder said. "I think it's definitely a good movie. I think Zoolander is something that people wanted to see to have laughs with. And I think quality also (was a factor with) Hearts In Atlantis. All three pictures seemed to find their own niche. But, first and foremost, I think Don't Say A Word is about quality. It's a tough subject matter."
Asked about Fox's exit polls, Snyder replied, "34 percent excellent and 41 percent very good overall. That's real solid--75 percent in the Top Two Boxes. Women under 25 seem to be the strongest audience for the picture. They were 85 percent in the Top Two Boxes and (accounted for) a quarter of the audience, which was a little bit surprising to me. I thought it might play a little older than that and it didn't. They (under-25 females) were 25 percent of the audience. So it played to everybody. A broad audience and young.
"What it says is Michael Douglas is still a movie star. At the end of the day, when we did what we did in the smallish towns I kept looking at those and going, 'Well, they're really good.' I think that is (because) he's a movie star."
Paramount and Village Roadshow Pictures' PG-13 youth appeal comedy Zoolander kicked off strongly in second place, laughing all the way to the bank with an ESTIMATED $15.7 million at 2,507 theaters ($6,262 per theater).
"Obviously, we're pleased with it," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning.
"We'd have liked to have been number one, but Don't Say A Word did better than we thought it was going to do. What we found was that our strength was in the bigger markets and their picture seemed to play better in smaller towns. I think that's probably where the difference is."
Reflecting on the upswing in ticket sales this weekend, Lewellen noted, "The market is up overall over last year 15-20 percent (depending on how you calculate comparisons). I think there was a lot of concern particularly with Don't Say A Word with the genre picture that it was--you know, a child in jeopardy--and would people want to go see that (in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks)."
The big jump for key films at the box office, he said, "is the result of the overall product, too--with Hardball holding well, The Others and so forth. I think people were sort of ready to go back to the theaters."
Warner Bros.' release of Castle Rock Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama Hearts In Atlantis opened solidly in third place to a hearty ESTIMATED $9.53 million at 1,751 theaters ($5,440 per theater).
"We're very pleased with that opening," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It's an extremely competitive weekend. The box office was up (based on Warners' Sunday morning estimates) 20 percent over last year and about 35 percent over last week. We had two movies open extremely wide against us. I think we held our own. We had the largest percentage increase for Saturday over Friday of any (new) movie. I'm anticipating a strong Sunday and I expect this film to hold well in the marketplace. Word of mouth is good. Our audience reactions are excellent. So we're in pretty good shape right now."
Asked if Warners will go wider with Hearts, Fellman replied, "We're going to add a few hundred screens. I don't know many (yet, but) probably a couple of hundred this week."
For the most part, Hearts received favorable reviews. One glaring exception to that was a New York Times review last Friday that ripped the film to shreds. "The New York Times (review) was outrageous," Fellman said. "But, you know, nationally we were up 37 percent on Saturday night over Friday. In New York, the whole market was up 67 percent over Friday. Word of mouth took over in New York. We really did have very favorable reviews overall. We just got beat up pretty bad by the Times, which I thought was going to hurt us more. It hurt us on Friday night in New York. Then Saturday we just jumped right back. Friday we did $2.875 million and Saturday we did $3.95 million. I'm looking for a good Sunday (and am estimating) $3.27 million."
Asked who was there opening weekend, Fellman replied, "About 75 percent of the audience was over 25. It was very similar to our sneaks (the previous weekend)--about 55 percent female and 45 percent male."
Paramount's PG-13 rated urban appeal drama-comedy Hardball slid three pegs to fourth place in its third week with an okay ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-35%) at 2,218 theaters (+8 theaters; $2,344 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.3 million, heading for $40 million.
Dimension Films' hit PG-13 thriller The Others fell three rungs to fifth place in its eighth week, continuing to hold very well with an ESTIMATED $5.1 million (+1%) at 2,724 theaters (-77 theaters; $1,872 per theater). Others, which cost only $17 million to make, has a cume of approximately $87.0 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
"It's really surprised a lot of people just in terms of its word of mouth potential," David Kaminow, senior vice president, marketing for Dimension's parent company Miramax, said Sunday morning. "Audiences just keep coming back to it. It's obviously a very satisfying experience. It's held in the Top Five ever since it opened.
"The fact that audiences are loving it means it's obviously going to be a very profitable picture for us, having cost just $17 million to make--which is always a nice return on your investment."
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated action comedy blockbuster sequel Rush Hour 2 slipped one notch to sixth place in its ninth week with an okay ESTIMATED $2.68 million (-24%) at 2,086 theaters (-43 theaters; $1,282 per theater). Its cume is approximately $219.4 million, heading for $225 million in domestic theaters.
Columbia's PG-13 rated suspense thriller The Glass House dropped four pegs to seventh place in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $2.1 million (-53%) at 1,601 theaters (+10 theaters; $1,290 per theater). Its cume is approximately $15.0 million, heading for $20 million.
Paramount's PG-13 comedy Rat Race fell one rung to eighth place in its seventh week with a slower ESTIMATED $1.76 million (-40%) at 2,024 theaters (-393 theaters; $867 per theater). Its cume is approximately $54.1 million, heading for $57-60 million.
Universal and Miramax's PG-13 rated action adventure acquisition The Musketeer dropped five pegs to ninth place in its fourth week with a less lively ESTIMATED $1.74 million (-51%) at 2,367 theaters (-133 theaters; $735 per theater). Musketeer, which Universal picked up for North America for only about $3.75 million, has a cume of approximately $25.5 million, heading for $30 million in domestic theaters.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Sony's Screen Gems label's R rated urban appeal romantic comedy Two Can Play That Game, which was sixth last week, with a less engaging ESTIMATED $1.6 million (-50%) at 1,188 theaters (+11 theaters; $1,347 per theater). Made for only $6 million, its cume is approximately $20.6 million, heading for the mid-$20 millions in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Mark Brown, it stars Vivica Fox and Anthony Anderson.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Providence Entertainment's PG rated action film ExtremeDays to a soft ESTIMATED $0.5 million at 351 theaters ($1,425 per theater).
Directed by Eric Hannah, it stars Dante Brasco.
MGM's release of United Artists' R rated romantic comedy Born Romantic opened quietly to an ESTIMATED $9,000 at 7 theaters ($1,295 per theater).
This weekend saw Miramax hold 1,250 well attended sneak previews Friday and Saturday night of its PG-13 rated romantic comedy Serendipity. The sneaks were held at theaters playing The Others.
"They were extremely successful and we're just over the moon this morning," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow, said Sunday morning. "We had a national average capacity of 80-90 percent. We had sell-outs in almost every single market and in some markets multiple sell-outs. I'm not just talking about New York or L.A. type markets. We had sell-outs in places like Franklin, Tennessee and Omaha, Nebraska and Birmingham, Alabama.
"So the movie played really, really deep, which is very exciting for us--to have the movie play as broadly as it did and get the reach of an audience that deep both on Friday and Saturday night. We know that the film is (its own) best friend. We love to show the movie to audiences because we know they're going to love it and get the word of mouth out there."
Asked about the film's audience, Kaminow replied, "Demographically we were about 60 percent female and 40 percent male, about 40 percent under 25. Our exit surveys--the ones that we've gotten back (as of early Sunday morning) from six or seven markets--on average we're looking at 80-90 percent in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) and a 70s percent (range) definite recommend. So we feel we're in a great position (to open) this weekend.
"We're really the only romantic comedy in the marketplace right now. It is the perfect movie for the current climate of the country. You go and you feel good. It's 90 minutes of romance and humor. I think one of the things that also made the sneaks successful was getting the idea out there that it's not just John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, who are of course wonderful actors and performers in their own right, but letting people know that we have Jeremy Piven and Molly Shannon and Eugene Levy in the cast for the comedy aspect of the film that might help it skew a little younger and a little more male, not just for women. So we got that message out there I'd say in the past week to 10 days to let everyone know that they were in the movie, as well. I think it's shaping up to, hopefully, be a big hit this weekend."
Serendipity opens Friday (Oct. 5) at between 2,200 and 2,400 theaters.
There was no significant action on the expansion front this weekend.
Universal International reported Sunday morning that its American Pie 2 opened last Thursday to record breaking first place grosses in Germany. The film's $5.9 million gross for Thursday through Saturday was the market's biggest opening weekend of the year and also included the year's biggest opening day. Universal said Pie 2's opening was 4 percent bigger than Pearl Harbor, 17 percent ahead of Hannibal, 23 percent bigger than The Mummy Returns, 31 percent larger than Jurassic Park III and 58 percent better than Planet Of The Apes.
Pie 2's opening in Austria also saw it hit first place with a very strong Friday-Saturday gross of about $555,000.
Universal's The Fast and the Furious kicked off in France, opening there in first place last Wednesday. The studio said grosses for the weekend would not be known until Monday. The picture began its release in Southeast Asia this weekend, opening in Singapore to a solid $170,000 at 29 screens. In Australia, Fast grossed $645,000 for its second weekend, bringing its cume there to $3 million.
In other territories, Fast took in $722,000 in the U.K. for Friday-Saturday, raising its cume after three weeks to $6.6 million. In Mexico, in its fourth week its two-day gross was $130,000 and its cume is $3 million.
Universal said Fast's international cume is now $18 million with 30 countries still to open. Domestically, the picture has done about $143.8 million through this weekend.
Universal also reported continuing strength for its release of Bridget Jones's Diary, which it co-financed with Miramax (which released it domestically). In its sixth weekend in Germany, Bridget ranked second (after Pie 2) with $420,000 for two days and a cume of $15.5 million. It opened in Japan to a very strong six day cume of $4.2 million, ranking second to the local Japanese hit Spirited Away.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $71.08 million, up about 24.04 per cent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $57.3 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 34.11 percent from last weekend of this year, when key films took in approximately $53.0 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's opening week of Remember the Titans was first with $20.91 million at 1,865 theaters ($11,210 per theater); and Warner Bros.' second week of its reissue of The Exorcist was second with $7.21 million at 1,150 theaters ($6,266 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $28.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $33.7 million.