‘Rules’ Continues to Engage

Hollywood’s tracking scores were off the track this weekend as “Rules of Engagement” held on to the top spot. Insiders had expected Columbia’s high-tracking “28 Days” to rewrite the “Rules” for first place.

Paramount’s R rated military trial drama showed great legs with an estimated $10.9 million (-27 percent) at 3,199 theaters (+35 theaters; $3,417 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.5 million heading for about $65 million in domestic theaters.

“The tracking has been so far off in the last month,” observed one distribution source Sunday morning. “Remember, they had ‘Rules of Engagement’ supposedly opening in the $20 millions. It opens up, it’s number one (with $15 million) and everyone’s disappointed because somebody else has pumped (up expectations for) the numbers.

“Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the beginning of early spring and — weather being what it has been on the East Coast — it may be that spring hit us a lot earlier than normal. The first nice weekend in the East, you can close theaters. People want to be outdoors.”

In any event, Paramount said it was delighted with “Rules'” great hold, though it also pointed out that its tracking data the previous week had been wrong. “Last week, the tracking said our number would be higher, too,” Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning.

Asked why he thought “Rules” was holding so well, Lewellen replied, “I think it’s the word of mouth. We knew from the exit polls last week that it’s playing well. The strength of the mid-week numbers showed that word of mouth was kicking in. This coming weekend we have (Universal’s male appeal World War II submarine drama) ‘U-571’ coming in, which will certainly go after this audience.”

Columbia’s PG-13 rated dramatic comedy “28 Days” was a solid second with an estimated $10.40 million at 2,523 theaters ($4,122 per theater).

Its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.

Sandra Bullock has had a great track record of opening movies to $10 million or better, and she’s certainly got another one here,” Sony Pictures releasing president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.

“Given that it’s a holiday weekend next weekend — the biggest opening looks to be ‘U-571’ — I think our prospects for next weekend are pretty good.”

Asked about the tracking for “Days” that had suggested it could open to $10-12 million in first place, Blake pointed out, “The bottom line is, I think a 10 percent first choice means one thing in July and another thing in April. People are certainly reminded of that, once again. There’s no question, lower tracking translates into bigger grosses when there’s heavy moviegoing in July.

“April is certainly one of the lighter moviegoing months and higher tracking does seem to be translating into lower numbers. But you still have to take a step back, whether you’re ‘Rules of Engagement’ or ’28 Days,’ and say, These are pretty good openings.'”

The tracking also fell short in the case of Buena Vista/Touchstone’s launch of its PG-13 rated romantic comedy “Keeping the Faith.” The film’s 9 percent first-choice score had insiders predicting it would open second with about $10 million. Moviegoers, however, showed only enough faith for it to place third with an estimated $8.2 million at 2,152 theaters ($3,796 per theater).

“The last couple of weeks has really been interesting,” Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. “None of the pictures has opened as high as you would have expected (based on their tracking scores) — whether it was last week with ‘Rules’ or this week with ’28 Days’ or with us.”

However, Viane emphasized, “The bottom line is, the picture is playing great. Based on that, I think we’re going to be around for a long time. Just going off our college network (research), we have never had exits like this. They really, really like it. Everything in our Top Two boxes (excellent and very good) is mid-90 percents. Now, we’ve had 91 percents and 92 percents before, but I’ve never had one in the mid-90s. ‘Phenomenon’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping,’ two of our highest-scoring films, both scored 91 percent. This came in at 94 percent. I haven’t seen anything like this. It’s just one of these movies where everybody has such a good time with it.”

Viane said he expected “Faith” to hold solidly and become one of those films that plays very well for exhibitors over the course of many weeks.

Focusing on how “Faith” is playing versus “Days,” Viane said, “If we’re in (upscale areas such as L.A.’s) Century City or the Woodland Hills Promenade or in Santa Monica, we beat ’28 Days.’ If we’re in the blue collar neighborhoods, they beat us. So I’ve got to assume it’s the cachet of Sandra Bullock being the sure thing for the blue collar neighborhoods. All we can do is stay the course with a fabulous-playing movie.”

Looking ahead, Viane is bullish on business over the next few weeks in view of school holidays geared to Easter or spring breaks. “Starting tomorrow, roughly 30 percent of the kids are out of school nationally on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday,” he said. “Thursday it builds to the high 30s or maybe even 40 percent. On Friday, 77 percent of the schools are closed. Then you have the wonderful holiday weekend. Monday 44 percent of the schools are closed. Then it drops into the 20s. So for the next 11 days, the total gross for the business is going to be (boosted) because of the Easter effect.”

Viane expects this to work in favor of “Faith:” “The one thing that we don’t have yet is young teenage girls — I’m talking about the 13s, 14s and 15s. We’ve got them from 18 up. This is probably when we start to see them. They’ll make some choices. They talk more than anybody else I know. They can really add into our numbers.”

Universal’s “Erin Brockovich” fell two notches to fourth place in its fifth weekend, still showing good legs with an estimated $7.03 million (-28 percent) at 3,070 theaters (+66 theaters; $2,290 per theater). Its cume is approximately $99.3 million.

The R rated dramatic comedy was co-financed by Universal, which is distributing it domestically, and by Columbia, which is releasing it internationally. The two studios are 50-50 partners in the picture.

DreamWorks’ PG rated animated comedy “The Road To El Dorado” dropped two rungs to fifth place in its third week with a less lively estimated $6.20 million (-32 percent) at 3,223 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,924 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.1 million.

MGM’s PG rated romantic comedy “Return to Me” slid two slots in its second week to sixth place with a less encouraging estimated $5.30 million (-32 percent) at 2,320 theaters (+313 theaters; $2,284 per theater). Its cume is approximately $15.5 million.

Lions Gate Films’ R rated serial killer thriller “American Psycho” opened in seventh place to a restrained estimated $4.90 million at 1,236 theaters ($3,964 per theater).

“It’s a film a lot of people thought shouldn’t be made or shouldn’t be distributed,” Lions Gate co-president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning. “And for an edgy, indie film I think we did the best job possible … introducing it to the commercial marketplace.

“We’ll probably gross $15 million, and for us that’s a great piece of business. It cost $7 million to make. We spend much less than others do to market films. So on a $15 million gross, we’ll pretty much earn back the p&a [prints and advertising], and then everything else is gravy. For us, it’s a good piece of business. We own the whole world (in terms of rights to ‘Psycho’). We don’t distribute foreign. We just act as a sales agent. But our guys were able to sell off just about the entire budget in foreign.”

Universal’s PG-13 rated thriller “The Skulls” slipped three rungs to eighth place i its third week with a dull estimated $4.02 million (-38 percent) at 2,416 theaters ($1,665 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.7 million.

There was a tie for ninth place in Sunday’s estimates.

New Line’s R rated suspense thriller “Final Destination,” which was ninth the previous weekend, was holding well and tied for ninth place in its fifth weekend with an estimated $2.80 million (-27 percent) at 1,509 theaters (-505 theaters; $1,856 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.1 million.

Buena Vista/Touchstone’s R rated romantic comedy “High Fidelity,” which was eighth the previous weekend, tied for ninth in its third week with a calm estimated $2.8 million (-35 percent) at 1,229 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,238 per theater). Its cume is approximately $16.9 million.

OTHER OPENINGS Last weekend also saw the arrival of USA Films’ PG-13 caper comedy “Where the Money Is,” placing 13th with an unlucky estimated $2.30 million at 1,538 theaters ($1,495 per theater).

“Our marketing campaign really hit in the middle of the week last week with Paul Newman on David Letterman and ‘Good Morning America’ and so forth,” USA Films distribution head Jack Foley said Sunday morning. “Last night’s (Saturday) business in (upscale markets like L.A.’s) Encino and Woodland Hills, in Framingham (Mass.) and all those high-end suburbs jumped significantly from Friday to the degree that we were looking at 100-300 percent increases.

“So the good news is, we at least nailed those suburbs yesterday. It was a Saturday picture, and I expect it will do business today (Sunday). I think it was a belated influence from the marketing. We moved those people, but unfortunately, based on this gross for the weekend, we didn’t move them enough. There was a lot of competition this weekend, too. It may be that they’ll slowly go forward.”

Miramax’s R rated comedy “East Is East” opened in New York and Los Angeles, placing 24th with an encouraging estimated $0.052 million at 4 theaters ($13,000 per theater).

“We’ll go to the top 20 (markets) this Friday, so we’ll probably be on between 25 and 30 screens (with exclusive runs) this weekend,” Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning.

SNEAK PREVIEWS New Line held 800 sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13 rated time travel thriller “Frequency.” “The reactions were spectacular,” New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. “People were crying and applauding at the end.”

“Frequency” opens Apr. 28 at about 1,800 theaters.

EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, USA Films went wider with its R rated drama “Joe Gould’s Secret,” placing 23rd in its second week with a quiet estimated $0.056 million (+45 percent) at 16 theaters (+11 theaters; $3,524 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.1 million.

WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films — those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend — took in approximately $76.70 million, up about 1.45 percent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $75.61 million.

This weekend’s key film gross was down about 4.13 percent from this year’s previous weekend, when key films grossed $80.00 million.

Last year, Universal’s opening week of “Life” was first with $20.41 million at 2,594 theaters ($7,870 per theater); and Warner Bros.’ third week of “The Matrix” was second with $17.94 million at 2,903 theaters ($6,180 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $38.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $21.3 million.

STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend’s top six distributors were:

Buena Vista (Disney, Touchstone)was first with four films (“Keeping the Faith,” “Mission To Mars,” “High Fidelity” and “Fantasia 2000”), grossing an estimated $13.08 million or 17.1 percent of the market.

Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia, TriStar, Screen Gems) was second with two films (“28 Days” and “Black and White”), grossing an estimated $11.29 million or 14.7 percent of the market.

Universal was third with two films (“Erin Brockovich” and “The Skulls”), grossing an estimated $11.05 million or 14.4 percent of the market.

Paramount was fourth with one film (“Rules of Engagement”), grossing an estimated $10.90 million or 14.2 percent of the market.

DreamWorks was fifth with two films (“The Road To El Dorado” and “American Beauty”), grossing an estimated $8.30 million or 10.8 percent of the market.

Warner Bros. was sixth with three films (“Romeo Must Die,” “My Dog Skip” and “Ready To Rumble”), grossing an estimated $5.78 million or 7.5 percent of the market.

ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)Ready to Rumble/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 2,585 (0) Gross: $2.64 million (-50 percent) Average per theater: $1,019 Cume: $9.0 million

(12)Romeo Must Die/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,824 (-465) Gross: $2.56 million (-44 percent) Average per theater: $1,404 Cume: $49.6 million


(14) American Beauty/DreamWorks: Theaters: 1,467 (-467) Gross: $2.10 million (-38 percent) Average per theater: $1,441 Cume: $124.8 million

(15) Fantasia 2000/BV/Disney: Theaters: 54 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $1.40 million (+8 percent) Average per theater: $26,526 Cume: $42.5 million (domestic)

(16) Black and White/Sony/Screen Gems: Theaters: 1,284 (0) Gross: $0.89 million (-60 percent) Average per theater: $695 Cume: $4.5 million

(17) Mission to Mars/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 762 (-832) Gross: $0.68 million (-56 percent) Average per theater: $894 Cume: $58.0 million

(18) My Dog Skip/Warner Bros./Alcon Ent.: Theaters: 1,023 (-378) Gross: $0.59 million (-39 percent) Average per theater: $575 Cume: $31.4 million

(19) The Cider House Rules/Miramax: Theaters: 644 (-377) Gross: $0.57 million (-49 percent) Average per theater: $877 Cume: $55.7 million

(20) Boys Don’t Cry/Fox Searchlight: Theaters: 258 (-102) Gross: $0.36 million (-47 percent) Average per theater: $1,384 Cume: $11.0 million

(21) The Sixth Sense/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 450 (-129) Gross: $0.27 million (-47 percent) Average per theater: $602 Cume: $292.9 million

(22) The Hurricane/Universal: Theaters: 140 (-101) Gross: $0.10 million (-35 percent) Average per theater: $645 Cume: $50.7 million

(23)Joe Gould’s Secret/USA Films: (see EXPANSIONS above)

(24)EAST IS EAST/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)