Hollywood found lots of life on "Mars" this weekend as Buena Vista/Touchstone's "Mission to Mars" blasted off to about $23 million. "Mars" landed in 3,054 theaters with an out-of-this-world estimated $23.10 million ($7,559 per theater).
Its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
It was a victory as well for studio tracking studies, which had predicted a first-place finish in the mid $20 millions. For the previous three weeks, however, Hollywood pollsters had been overly optimistic about the openings of "Hanging Up," "Reindeer Games" and "The Next Best Thing."
"Our marketing guys (under Marketing President Geoffrey Ammer) did such a fabulous job getting it open," Buena Vista Distribution President Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "We were sitting here talking this morning, saying, 'How often does a picture do more business in one night ($7.85 million Friday) than any other film in the marketplace does for the [entire] weekend?' That's unusual. We represent an unbelievably high percentage of the Top 10. We're like 38% of the Top 10.
On the record-setting front, Viane said, "If my statisticians are right, this will be the third-highest March opening ever. The first two being 'Liar Liar' and the original 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.' So, not too shabby!"
Demographically, he said, "We have 57 percent male, 43 percent female. Couples represent the vast majority -- like 57 percent. Teens are about 25 percent, and families make up the balance."
The film's ultra-wide release, he added, fit well with its PG rating: "We decided that the beauty of this rating (is that) you're more accessible to the general audience. If you have an R-rated film, it's probably a little wiser to wait (to go that wide)."
Artisan Entertainment's R-rated thriller "The Ninth Gate" opened a distant second with a not so scary estimated $6.70 million at 1,586 theaters ($4,225 per theater).
"It's a solid opening, and we're very happy to be No. 2 in the marketplace," Artisan distribution head Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning. "Hopefully, we'll be able to build upon this. There are only two films opening up next week, so hopefully we can keep the film in the marketplace for a while."
Will Artisan go any wider with "Gate?" "We'll probably stay where we are," Rothenberg replied. "We feel this is the right number of theaters to be in at this point."
Although he was waiting for the exit poll research to come in, Rothenberg noted, "From having gone to several theaters over the weekend, [the audience] who came is exactly who we went after -- basically, 18- to 34-year-olds. One thing that didn't occur, which could have made the gross a bit higher, is that we didn't really get too much of an over-35 crowd, Polanski's old crowd. I think the key reason for that is the reviews were pretty tepid."
Warner Bros. PG-rated family drama "My Dog Skip", from Alcon Entertainment, held on to third place in its ninth week with a still snappy estimated $6.04 million (+3%) at 2,331 theaters (theater count unchanged, $2,591 per theatre). Its total is approximately $14.1 million.
"It was a good weekend at the box office for us," Warner Bros. Distribution President Dan Fellman said Sunday morning, referring to both "Skip" and Warners' hit comedy "The Whole Nine Yards," which finished in fourth place.
With "Skip" now having just passed $14 million, Fellman said it looks like it could get to the area of $30 million in domestic theaters. Given its production cost of around $7 million, that would make it highly profitable for all concerned.
"It's (showing) extremely strong holding ability," he said, adding that that was how "Skip" had performed in Warners' earlier test engagements. "People really like this movie. The CinemaScores were A. All the exit interviews were sensational."
Fourth place went to Warner Bros.' "The Whole Nine Yards," the R-rated "hit" comedy from Morgan Creek and Franchise Pictures, down three slots in its fourth weekend but still showing strong legs with an estimated $5.40 million (-25%) at 2,672 theaters (-121 theaters, $2,021 per theater). Its total is approximately $45.8 million.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, "Yards" stars Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry.
Where is "Yards" heading? "Sixty million dollars," Fellman said Sunday morning. "When you run into a picture like 'Mission,' which is the first major competition we've had, and end up down (only) 25%, you say to yourself, 'Boy, this has an audience!' It's wonderful."
DreamWorks' R-rated drama "American Beauty," a major Oscar contender with eight nominations, including Best Picture, rose four rungs to fifth place in its 26th week with a still impressive estimated $3.66 million (-9%) at 1,522 theaters (+183 theaters, $2,402 per theater). Its total is approximately $98 million.
Directed by Sam Mendes, it stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening.
"It will probably hit $100 million Saturday," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning. "It could even happen Friday, but certainly no later than Saturday."
Mendes was honored Saturday night with the Directors Guild of America's top award. If "Beauty" goes on to win Best Picture, it could wind up grossing $120 million-plus in domestic theaters.
Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules," "Beauty's" principal competition in the Best Picture Oscar race, rose four notches to sixth place in its 14th week with a still-solid estimated $3.58 million (-11%) at 1,704 theaters (+208 theaters, $2,101 per theater). Its total is approximately $42 million.
Destination Films' PG-13-rated comedy "Drowning Mona" slid three pegs to seventh place in its second week with a still OK estimated $3.46 million (-40%) at 1,981 theaters (theater count unchanged, $1,749 per theater). Its total is approximately $10.8 million.
Paramount's PG-13-rated romantic comedy drama "The Next Best Thing" from Lakeshore Entertainment plunged six slots to eighth place in its second week with a slow estimated $3.35 million (-43%) at 2,034 theaters (+27 theaters, $1,647 per theater). Its total is approximately $10.6 million.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG-rated comedy "Snow Day" fell three drifts in its fifth week to tie for ninth place with a less frozen estimated $3.10 million (-35%) at 2,672 theaters (-45 theaters, $1,160 per theater). Its total is approximately $52.9 million.
Also tied for ninth place was USA Films' R-rated sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black," last week's No. 5 film, in its fourth week with a still OK estimated $3.10 million (-39%) at 1,730 theaters (-173 theaters, $1,792 per theater). Its total is approximately $34.4 million.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Paramount Classics' R-rated suspense drama "Deterrence," placing 31st with a weak estimated $0.024 million at 7 theaters ($3,422 per theater).
Written and directed by Rod Lurie, it stars Kevin Pollak and Timothy Hutton.
This weekend saw Universal hold sneak previews of its dramatic comedy "Erin Brockovich" on Saturday night at about 797 theaters in the United States and Canada.
"They went fabulously," Universal Distribution President Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "We had 93 percent overall capacity. Eighty percent of the theatres were 90 percent to 100 percent filled."
As far as word of mouth, the exit polls were 98% in the Top Two boxes (excellent and very good) with an 86% definite recommend. That's overall. It's very terrific, but it's not surprising. When people see it, they absolutely love it."
BR>"Brockovich" opens Friday at 2,700-plus theaters. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it stars Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart.
Why did the film sneak so well? "No. 1 -- Julia Roberts is a superstar," Rocco replied. "I think the word has gotten out that the film is just an incredible crowd pleaser. I think the direction from Steven Soderbergh pushes it over the top. These are the three reasons why it's a success. The (director) is incredibly talented. He's got a major superstar and a story that works phenomenally."
On the expansion front, last weekend saw Artisan Entertainment go wider with its R-rated dark comedy "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," placing 26th in its second week with a calm estimated $0.10 million (-38%) at 19 theaters (+5 theaters, $5,465 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.3 million.
USA Films PG-rated suspense drama re-issue "Rear Window" widened in its eighth week, placing 27th with a quiet estimated $0.097 million (-27%) at 27 theaters (+3 theaters, $3,594 per theater). Its total is approximately $1.2 million.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13-rated dramatic comedy "The Closer You Get" widened in its third week, placing 29th with a dull estimated $0.070 million at 30 theaters (+15 theaters, $2,333 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.2 million.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend – took in approximately $80.60 million, up about 3.93% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $77.55 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 5.34% from last weekend, when key films grossed $76.51 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' second week of "Analyze This" was first with $15.57 million and MGM's opening week of "The Rage: Carrie 2" was second with $7.07 million. The Top Two films one year ago grossed $22.7 million. This year, the Top Two films grossed an estimated $29.8 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend’s Top Six distributors were the following:
Artisan Entertainment was fifth with one film ("The Ninth Gate"), grossing an estimated $6.70 million or 8.3% of the market.
DreamWorks was sixth with one film ("American Beauty") grossing an estimated $3.66 million or 4.5% of the market.
(11) "Reindeer Games"/Dimension Theaters: 2,113 (-91) Gross: $2.79 million (-41%) Average per theater: $1,320 Total: $19.3 million
(12) "Wonder Boys"/Paramount Theaters: 1,509 (+5) Gross: $2.6 million (-36%) Average per theater: $1,723 Total: $15 million
(13) "The Tigger Movie"/Buena Vista/Disney Theaters: 2,093 (-563) Gross: $2.4 million (-32%) Average per theater: $1,147 Total: $38.7 million
(14) "3 Strikes"/MGM Theaters: 678 (0) Gross: $1.79 million (-51%) Average per theater: $2,640 Total: $7.2 million
(15) "Hanging Up"/Columbia Theaters: 1,977 (-641) Gross: $1.7 million (-54%) Average per theater: $860 Total: $34.1 million
(16) "Scream 3"/Dimension Theaters: 1,447 (-379) Gross: $1.54 million (-47%) Average per theater: $1,064 Total: $84.5 million
(17) "What Planet Are You From?"/Columbia Theaters: 2,248 (0) Gross: $1.5 million (-50%) (tie) Average per theater: $667 Total: $5.4 million
(17) "Fantasia 2000"/BV/Disney Theaters: 54 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $1.5 million (domestic) (even) (tie) Average per theater: $27,778 Total: $31.1 million (domestic)
(19) "Boiler Room"/New Line Theaters: 607 (-397) Gross: $0.98 million (-45%) Average per theater: $1,606 Total: $15.3 million
(20) "The Sixth Sense"/BV/Touchstone Theaters: 672 (-87) Gross: $0.94 million (-21%) Average per theater: $1,400 Total: $286.8 million
(21) "The Green Mile"/Castle Rock/Warner Bros. Theaters: 848 (-249) Gross: $0.74 million (-32%) Average per theater: $875 Total: $133.7 million
(22) "The Beach"/20th Century Fox Theaters: 728 (-756) Gross: $0.63 million (-61%) Average per theater: $865 Total: $38.1 million
(23) "Boys Don't Cry"/Fox Searchlight Theaters: 185 (+3) Gross: $0.48 million (+9%) Average per theater: $2,595 Total: $6.1 million
(24) "The Hurricane"/Universal Theaters: 404 (-185) Gross: $0.32 million (-35%) Average per theater: $800 Total: $49.5 million
(25) "Topsy-Turvy"/USA Films Theatres Theaters: 117 (-26) Gross: $0.20 million (-22%) Average per theater: $1,760 Total: $5.2 million
(26) "Ghost Dog"/Artisan (see EXPANSIONS above)
(27) "Rear Window"/USA Films (see EXPANSIONS above)
(28) "Snow Falling on Cedars"/Universal Theaters: 151 (-37) Gross: $0.080 million (-27%) Average per theater: $530 Total: $14.4 million
(29) "The Closer You Get"/Fox Searchlight (see EXPANSIONS above)
(30) "Agnes Browne"/USA Films Theaters: 14 (-7) Gross: $0.025 million (-49%) Average per theater: $1,795 Total: $0.1 million
(31) "Deterrence"/Paramount Classics (see OTHER OPENINGS above)