America always is, especially when it comes to the Super Bowl. And that's bad news this weekend for Hollywood executives.
Even a possibly mismatched Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots will keep millions away from theater movies on Sunday.
Take, for example, the last weekend in January for the past two years. In 2001, box office receipts stood at $96.2 million during that Super Bowl weekend, when the defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants. Business jumped a whooping 35.6 percent last weekend, to $130.5 million, all because NFL officials delayed the Super Bowl by one week following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Accordingly, this weekend sees the release of two films that pose little threat to reigning box office champ Black Hawk Down.
Nicole Kidman's very public divorce last year from Tom Cruise did not hurt her standing with moviegoers. Birthday Girl arrives hot on the heels of Moulin Rouge and The Others, but the thriller is unlikely to capitalize to any great extent on their success. Birthday Girl opens at 1,000 theaters, or 2,000 theaters less than Black Hawk Down, a sign that Miramax does not have great confidence in this tale of Russian mail-order bride Kidman and her easily duped husband-to-be (Ben Chaplin).
Also, Birthday Girl is another in the long line of oft-delayed Miramax-related offerings that includes recent flops Texas Rangers and Impostor. Originally scheduled for a Sept. 15, 2000, release, Birthday Girl did not make its debut until one year later at the Venice International Film Festival. Also, making matters worst, is the Super Bowl debut of another tardy thriller, Eye of the Beholder, which somehow grabbed the No. 1 spot in 2000 with a miserable $5.9 million debut.
Slackers, this weekend's second new release, also sat on the shelf for more than one year. Original distributor Destination Films went belly up after releasing such one-word-titled flops as Bats, Beautiful and Whipped, so Sony Picture's Screen Gems rescued Slackers from direct-to-video hell. Unrelated to Richard Linklater's 1992 Gen-X classic Slacker, this college-set comedy stars up-and-coming stars Devon Sawa (Final Destination), Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), James King (Pearl Harbor) and Laura Prepon (That '70s Show) as unmotivated students looking solely for a good time.
Aside from American Pie 2, R-rated teen comedies proved a messier proposition last year than a baked goods in Jason Briggs' lap. Tomcats, Say It Isn't So and Freddy Got Fingered tanked. Not Another Teen Movie barely crawled its way to $37.8 million during the holidays.
Also, the Super Bowl wasn't too kind to last year's teen comedy, the witless Sugar & Spice, which made a less-than-sweet $13.2 million. Slackers isn't going to overcome this indifference with any ease, especially with the PG-13 rated Orange County ($34 million through Sunday) likely to attract its fair share of teens not intrigued by the showdown in New Orleans.
Brotherhood of the Wolf expands this weekend after sinking its teeth into $1.6 million at 292 theaters. The slick and chilly French horror yarn has amassed a promising $4.2 million in three weeks, and could enjoy mainstream success among those thrilled by its Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style martial arts antics. Beyond that, Brotherhood of the Wolf boasts too much gore and not enough romance to make anything close to $128 million that Ang Lee's Oscar-winning epic made during its record-breaking run.
This should leave Black Hawk Down with enough firepower to preside over the box office for a third and possibly final weekend before the Feb. 8 releases of Collateral Damage and Rollerball. Ridley Scott's bloody recount of a battle between U.S. troops and Somalia militia already has captured $62.7 million through Wednesday after two weeks in wide release. That firmly puts Black Hawk Down ahead of fellow leave-no-one-behind thrillers as Spy Game ($62.2 million) and Behind Enemy Lines ($57.4 million). Also, producer Jerry Bruckheimer can celebrate a second successful military campaign after his Pearl Harbor earned $198.5 million last summer.
The release of five wide releases last weekend saw such holiday holdovers as Ocean's Eleven ($175.9 million through Sunday), Vanilla Sky ($96 million through Sunday), Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius ($76.2 million through Sunday) and Kate & Leopold ($45 million through Sunday) take big hits.
Mandy Moore fans turned out in surprising numbers to see the teen pop diva's A Walk to Remember, allowing the earnest disease-of-the-week drama to earn a tuneful $12.1 million opening. A Walk to Remember's debut now sets the bar for Britney Spears' Crossroads, which opens Feb. 15.
Homework and school curfews no doubt resulted in Moore's so-so midweek performance, with A Walk to Remember trailing behind fellow rookies The Count of Monte Cristo, The Mothman Prophecies and I Am Sam. Its total through Wednesday: $13.9 million.
A Walk to Remember should weather the Super Bowl better than any of last week's new releases. Films that skew heavily toward women tend to do well during the Super Bowl, given that men are very much glued to the game. The Wedding Planner captured the No. 1 spot last year with a $13.5 million opening, followed by Save the Last Dance's $9.7 million third weekend haul. In 1999, She's All That debuted with $16.1 million, still a record for a Super Bowl weekend opening.
The Mothman Prophecies appeared to have triumphed last weekend over The Count of Monte Cristo, but when the final figures came in, the umpteenth remake of the Alexander Dumas adventure beat Richard Gere's chiller by a doubloon or two.
Kevin Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo opened with $11.3 million, slightly better than September's $10.3 million opening of The Musketeer. Reynolds also enjoyed a strong midweek, with The Count of Monte Cristo earning an additional $2.5 million on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Its total through Wednesday is $13.8 million. The Musketeer experienced a fast fade in the wake of lousy reviews and the Sept. 11 attack, so The Count of Monte Cristo should have no trouble surpassing its gross of $27 million.
The Mothman Prophecies will likely get sacked this weekend now that word is spreading that it is nothing more than a bewildering sub-standard X-Files episode. It has $13.2 million through Wednesday, with $25 million to $30 million a likely total.
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist kicked up an OK $7 million opening, with $7.9 million in total through Wednesday. The martial arts parody's main selling point, that it comes from Steve Oedekerk, the director of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, isn't going to be enough to prevent it from taking a major sock in the jaw this weekend.
The Beatles continue to captivate audiences some 30 years after they went their separate ways. A soundtrack populated with Fab Four covers helped I Am Sam count up to $8.3 million in its first week in wide at 1,268 theaters. Its $6,558 per screen average was the highest in last week's Top 10. With $10.3 million through Wednesday, I Am Sam will likely emerge relatively unscathed this Super Bowl weekend given that football fans are not among its core audience.
Snow Dogs also should emerge as Super Bowl-proof. The family comedy, with Cuba Gooding Jr., dropped just 27 percent in its second weekend, from $17.8 million to $13 million. Its total through Wednesday: $40.3 million. Those cute and courageous dogs will no doubt continue to make kids smile this weekend and into mid-February.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, A Beautiful Mind and Gosford Park will likely take something of a hit this weekend but will regain their footing should they earn their shot at Oscar gold.
Robert Altman, who surprised everyone by winning the Golden Globe for Best Director, celebrated his biggest hit in 10 years last weekend. With $16.7 million through Wednesday, Gosford Park surpassed with ease the $13 million taken in 2000 by Dr. T & the Women. Gosford Park will likely make more than The Player's $21.7 million total long before the Oscar nominations are announced Feb. 12.