Julia Roberts was worth her weight in box office gold this weekend as Universal's opening of "Erin Brockovich" topped the chart with more than $28 million. The R-rated dramatic comedy, co-financed by Universal and Columbia (which is releasing it internationally), kicked off to a perky estimated $28.21 million at 2,847 theaters ($9,910 per theater).
Its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"Steven Soderbergh and our filmmaking partners Jersey Films made a terrifically entertaining film that both critics and audiences have embraced," Universal Distribution President Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning.
"The combination of Julia Roberts, the No. 1 female star working in movies today, with this amazing story about a plain-speaking, working-class woman who takes on the big guys is absolutely irresistible.
"It's Julia's second-biggest film (opening) of all time after 'Runaway Bride,' which was a summer opening ($35.1 million via Paramount). It is March's second-biggest opening ever, behind 'Liar Liar' with Jim Carrey ($31.4 million via Universal). It's the second-biggest opening for the year, behind 'Scream 3' ($34.7 million via Dimension Films)."
Asked about the effect of last weekend's well-attended and well-liked sneak previews of "Erin," Rocco said, "I think the sneaks reinforced the fact that this is a very, very entertaining film. It helped the word of mouth. People buy into the fact that it's so entertaining. There's nothing better to sell a film than the film itself."
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Erin" stars Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckart.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's "Mission to Mars" was drifting in a lower orbit in its second week, tumbling one light-year to second place with an arid estimated $10.74 million (-53%) at 3,060 theaters (+6 theaters, $3,510 per theater). Its total is approximately $40 million.
New Line's R-rated suspense thriller "Final Destination" opened with a third-place destination and an OK estimated $10.20 million at 2,587 theaters ($3,943 per theater).
Directed by James Wong, it stars Devon Sawa, Ali Larter and Kerr Smith.
"We're thrilled with this number," New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "Research (based on tracking scores) had us at $4 million. The original 'Scream' only opened to $6 million. This is a really solid picture. I don't think it's going to be 'Scream,' but it's solid."
Warner Bros. PG-rated family drama "My Dog Skip" from Alcon Entertainment slipped one post to fourth place in its 10th week, still holding impressively with a frisky estimated $5.53 million (-8%) at 2,331 theaters (theater count unchanged, $2,372 per theater). Its total is approximately $21.8 million.
Directed by Jay Russell, "Skip" stars Frankie Muniz, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson and Kevin Bacon.
"This movie's going to definitely break $40 million now (in domestic theaters)," Warner Bros. Distribution President Dan Fellman said Sunday morning.
Artisan Entertainment's R-rated thriller "The Ninth Gate" plunged three slots to fifth place in its second week with a soft estimated $3.50 million (-47%) at 1,657 theaters (+71 theaters, $2,112 per theater). Its total is approximately $12.5 million.
Sixth place went to Warner Bros.' "The Whole Nine Yards," the R-rated hit man comedy from Morgan Creek and Franchise Pictures, down two rungs in its fifth weekend with an OK estimated $3.20 million (-42%) at 2,503 theaters (-169 theatres, $1,278 per theater). Its gross to date is approximately $51 million.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, "Yards" stars Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry.
"We'll do a little over $60 million (in domestic theaters)," Warners' Fellman said Sunday morning.
DreamWorks' R-rated drama "American Beauty," the front-running Best Picture Oscar contender, fell two slots to seventh place in its 27th week with a still solid estimated $2.90 million (-21%) at 1,661 theaters (+139 theaters, $1,746 per theater). Its total gross is approximately $102.7 million.
Directed by Sam Mendes, it stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening.
Miramax's PG-13-rated Best Picture Oscar contender "The Cider House Rules" fell two notches to eighth in its 15th week with an OK estimated $2.40 million (-31%) at 1,738 theaters (+34 theaters, $1,380 per theater). Its total gross is approximately $45.7 million.
Directed by Lasse Hallström, it stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd and Oscar nominee Michael Caine.
"By today, we've more than doubled our gross since the nominations, so that in and of itself is a victory," David Kaminow, Miramax senior vice president of marketing, said Sunday morning.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG-rated comedy "Snow Day" held on to ninth place in its sixth week with a still solid estimated $2.20 million (-31%) at 2,387 theaters (-285 theaters, $922 per theater). Its total gross is approximately $56.4 million.
Directed by Chris Koch, it stars Chevy Chase.
Rounding out the Top 10 was Buena Vista/Disney's G-rated "The Tigger Movie, up three slots in its sixth weekend with a still bouncy estimated $1.90 million (-24%) at 1,701 theaters (-392 theaters, $1,117 per theater). Its total gross is approximately $41.7 million.
Last weekend also saw the arrival of Lions Gate Films' R-rated wrestling documentary "Beyond the Mat," placing 19th with an OK estimated $0.95 million at 298 theaters ($3,188 per theater). Its total gross, including some prior runs, is approximately $0.987 million.
Written and directed by Barry Blaustein, it goes behind the scenes of the lives of three members of the World Wrestling Federation.
"I think it's phenomenal. People have to remember that it's a documentary," Lions Gate Co-President Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning. "It's playing very broadly. We're having some great numbers out of Middle America. We're going to be grossing $9,000 to $10,000 in Providence, Rhode Island, and Nashville, Tennessee, and San Antonio, Texas.
Will it add theaters next week?
"It's going to stay about the same," he said. "There were a number of runs among (the opening theaters) that didn't really work very well. So rather than making more prints, we'll just let those play for a couple of weeks, take them off and start bicycling them around. We'll try to do it in as timely a fashion as possible, but we're not in a huge rush."
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R-rated dark comedy "Soft Fruit" opened at one theater in New York, placing 31st with a soft estimated $0.006 million ($5,815 per theater).
Directed by Christina Adreef, it won the International Critics Prize at the 1999 San Sebastian Film Festival.
Last weekend saw no national sneak previews.
On the expansion front, last weekend saw Fox Searchlight's "Boys Don't Cry" widen in its 24th week, placing 23rd with an estimated $0.497 million at 254 theaters (+68 theaters, $1,917 per theater). Its total gross is approximately $6.8 million.
Directed by Kimberly Peirce, it stars Hilary Swank, a leading contender in the Best Actress Oscar race, and Chloë Sevigny, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee.
USA Films' PG-rated suspense drama reissue "Rear Window" widened in its ninth week, placing 28th with a calm estimated $0.089 million (-16%) at 37 theaters (+10 theaters, $2,395 per theater). Its total gross is approximately $1.3 million.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly. The 1954 film classic was restored by Robert Harris and James Katz.
Paramount Classics' R-rated drama "Deterrence" expanded in its second week, placing 29th with a dull estimated $0.021 million (-9 ) at 17 theaters (+10 theaters, $1,248 per theater). Its total gross is approximately $0.056 million.
Written and directed by Rod Lurie, it stars Kevin Pollak and Timothy Hutton.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $85.27 million, up about 19.69% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $71.24 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 4.74% from last weekend, when key films grossed $81.41 million.
Last year, DreamWorks' opening week of "Forces of Nature" was first with $13.51 million at 2,058 theaters and Warner Bros.' third week of "Analyze This" was second with $11.71 million at 2,537 theaters. The top two films one year ago grossed $25.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $39.1 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films, last weekend's top six distributors were the following:
Universal was first with one film ("Erin Brockovich") grossing an estimated $28.21 million or 33.1% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney, Touchstone) was second with four films ("Mission to Mars," "The Tigger Movie," "The Sixth Sense" and "Fantasia 2000") grossing an estimated $15.60 million or 18.3% of the market.
New Line was third with one film ("Final Destination")grossing an estimated $10.20 million or 12% of the market.
Warner Bros. was fourth with three films ("My Dog Skip," "The Green Mile" and "The Whole Nine Yards")grossing an estimated $9.28 million or 10.9% of the market.
Paramount was fifth with three films ("The Next Best Thing," "Snow Day" and "Wonder Boys") grossing an estimated $5.05 million or 5.9% of the market.
Miramax (Miramax, Dimension) was sixth with three films ("Reindeer Games," "Scream 3" and "The Cider House Rules") grossing an estimated $4.60 million or 5.4% of the market.
(11) "Drowning Mona"/Destination Theaters: 1,704 (-277) Gross: $1.78 million (-48%) Average per theater: $1,046 To date: $13.6 million
(12) "The Next Best Thing"/Paramount Theaters: 2,035 (+1) Gross: $1.70 million (-48%) Average per theater: $835 To date: $13.4 million
(13) "Fantasia 2000"/BV/Disney Theaters: 54 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $1.60 million (domestic) (+7%) Average per theater: $29,201 To date: $33.7 million (domestic)
(14) "Pitch Black"/USA Films Theaters: 1,384 (-346) Gross: $1.55 million (-47%) Average per theater: $1,105 To date: $36.6 million
(15) "Reindeer Games"/Dimension Theaters: 1,701 (-412) Gross: $1.30 million (-54%) Average per theater: $764 To date: $21.8 million
(16) "The Sixth Sense"/BV/Touchstone Theaters: 878 (+206) Gross: $1.20 million (-19%) Average per theater: $1,318 To date: $288.3 million
(17) "Wonder Boys"/Paramount Theaters: 1,458 (-51) Gross: $1.15 million (-56%) Average per theater: $789 To date: $16.9 million
(18) "3 Strikes"/MGM Theaters: 678 (0) Gross: $1 million (-47%) Average per theater: $1,465 To date: $8.8 million
(19) "Beyond the Mat"/Lions Gate Films (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(20) "Scream 3"/Dimension Theaters: 1,316 (-131) Gross: $0.90 million (-42%) Average per theater: $683 To date: $85.9 million
(21) "Hanging Up"/Columbia Theaters: 1,048 (-929) Gross: $0.64 million (-62%) Average per theater: $610 To date: $35.4 million
(22) "The Green Mile"/Castle Rock/Warner Bros. Theaters: 773 (-75) Gross: $0.55 million (-16%) Average per theater: $715 To date: $134.4 million
(23) "Boys Don't Cry"/Fox Searchlight (see EXPANSIONS above)
(24) "Boiler Room"/New Line Theaters: 380 (-227) Gross: $0.44 million (-55%) Average per theater: $1,165 To date: $16.1 million
(25) "The Beach"/20th Century Fox Theaters: 485 (-228) Gross: $0.31 million (-54%) Average per theater: $640 To date: $38.8 million
(26) "The Hurricane"/Universal Theaters: 336 (-70) Gross: $0.20 million (-39%) Average per theater: $595 To date: $49.8 million
(27) "Topsy-Turvy"/USA Films Theatres Theaters: 109 (-2) Gross: $0.14 million (-28%) Average per theater: $1,285 To date: $5.4 million
(28) "Rear Window"/USA Films (see EXPANSIONS above)
(29) "Deterrence"/Paramount Classics (see EXPANSIONS above)
(30) "Agnes Browne"/USA Films Theaters: 15 (+1) Gross: $0.018 million (-30%) Average per theater: $1,185 To date: $0.1 million
(31) "Soft Fruit"/Fox Searchlight (see OTHER OPENINGS above)