Van Helsing Begins It

Weekend Wrap-Up for May 7-9, 2004

By John Hamann

May 9, 2004

Jeri Ryan really let herself go after Boston Public was canceled.

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And so it begins. It's nutty season again at the box office as the blockbusters get off to an expensive start with Van Helsing, Universal's first entry in the summer sweepstakes.

What was Universal looking for in an opening weekend gross for Van Helsing? The Mummy Returns and its predecessor both opened on the same first weekend in May, came from the same studio and director, and were marketed similarly, so let's concentrate on those comparisons. The first Mummy movie took in $43.4 million over its opening frame in May 1999; however, that gross translates to about $52 million if you take into account the increase in ticket prices in the last five years. The Mummy Returns, with its built-in audience from a successful home video/DVD run, was able to improve on the first Mummy's debut take by about $25 million, finding $68.2 million. The Mummy Returns was a 2001 release, so increased ticket prices put it at $72.8 million. It would be easy to say Universal is looking for a debut in the $52-73 million range; however, the stakes are much higher on this one, as it carries an out-of-this-world $160 million production budget. With this information, I would guess that Universal was looking for an opening weekend in the $60-75 million range, and in the end came up just under the wire.

Top spot at the box office does go to Van Helsing. Overall it will probably come up as the third biggest open for the month of May 2004, losing to Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow. Van Helsing pulled down $54.2 million from 3,574 venues, giving the blockbuster a venue average of $15,165. It had a gross on Friday of $19.7 million, and a troubling weekend multiplier of 2.75 (first-day gross divided by weekend gross; The Mummy's was 2.89). The large opening weekend lands it in a disappointing 30th all-time, between the original X-Men and the first Scooby-Doo movie. It is only the 12th biggest open in May, and for star Hugh Jackman, his third biggest, behind the two X-Men films. Van Helsing is the fourth biggest opener debuting within the first seven days of May, behind Spider-Man, X2, and The Mummy Returns. The $160 million production budget puts it near the top of the most expensive films ever, near the likes of Wild Wild West and Waterworld. Its venue count of 3,574 is only the 13th biggest ever, and was already beat this year by Sony's 50 First Dates, which garnered 3,591.

So where is Van Helsing headed? Critics eviscerated the Stephen Sommers flick (so much that this couple decided not to go), with only 30 out of 128 possible critics giving it a positive review. That's an ugly average of 23%, and is probably the reason for the lower internal multiplier. The marketing for Van Helsing didn't feel all that "blockbustery" to me, the print campaign was almost non-existent, and the TV ads didn't have that one great effects shot that the first Mummy did. It felt like Universal abandoned the film heading into opening weekend, accepting the tracking it had. It also pulled a Matrix Revolutions, relying on additional marketing help from the release of the video game. Despite the huge production budget and the negative reviews, Universal will still end up on the plus side with Van Helsing, but maybe not to the heights Universal executives wanted.

Second spot this weekend goes to Mean Girls, another film to correctly access that elusive teenage girl market, something that this week's other opener, New York Minute, failed to do. Against Van Helsing, Mean Girls was able to pull down $14 million, dropping a decent 43% compared to its $24.4 million open last weekend (it was the best hold in the top ten). Mean Girls was a first weekend success story, as it carries a production budget of only $17 million, (yes, $143 million less than Van Helsing), most likely making it profitable after four weekends of release; it has a current total of $42.4 million. For Paramount, Mean Girls is a desperately needed hit. Already the teen-girl triumph has outscored the studio's four other studio releases in 2004, and looks to be their only definitive success story since School of Rock was released in October 2003. There may be more good news on the horizon, as Paramount has The Stepford Wives and The Manchurian Candidate on the docket next.

Third this weekend is Man on Fire, the latest Denzel Washington picture to find some legs. With Van Helsing directly in its demographic path, the Fox thriller dropped 47% this weekend to $7.9 million. The film carried a moderate $60 million budget, and the total gross is gaining on that figure with a total now of $56 million.

Way back in fourth is New York Minute, the new Olsen twins movie from Warner Bros. This is going to be an expensive miss for the young stars, as their film took in only $6.2 million from 2,846 venues. The Olsen sisters, not seen on the big screen much since 1995's It Takes Two, brought their production company to the table on this one, and with partners spent $40 million on the comedy. A start like this won't do it, even if the film somehow finds great legs. However, the two do have a huge following on home video, so don't count those plucky sisters out just yet.

Fifth this weekend is 13 Going on 30 with Jennifer Garner. This weekend, 13G30 pulled in $5.5 million, down 44% from its take last weekend. Now in its third weekend, the $37 million feature has now grossed $42.6 million.

The bottom of the chart contains a handful of releases that got dumped off last weekend. In sixth is Laws of Attraction, the Pierce Brosnan/Julianne Moore miss from New Line. Laws pulled in only $3.5 million this weekend, dropping 48% from its debut. The film cost the studio $32 million, and has now grossed $11.9 million, so chalk up a big miss in the New Line ledger.

Seventh goes to Kill Bill Volume 2 from Miramax. Now in its fourth weekend, the Quentin Tarantino flick grossed $3 million, down 48% from the last frame. The Miramax gravy train has pretty much stopped, with the total now sitting at $57.8 million.

Eighth is Godsend, which will give both moviegoers and its studio Lions Gate a big headache. Godsend grossed $2.7 million this weekend, down a not-so-surprising 60% from last weekend. The $30 million feature has now grossed $11.3 million.

Ninth is the king of the dogs, DreamWorks' Envy. Envy pulled in $2.6 million this weekend, down a nasty 58%. The Ben Stiller/Jack Black miss is the most expensive of last weekend's crop of losers, as the DreamWorks production cost $40 million and will end up with a similar gross as Laws of Attraction and Godsend. At least DreamWorks has Shrek 2 coming up.

Way back in tenth is the other top-ten finisher from Lions Gate, The Punisher. The Marvel movie grossed $1.2 million in its fourth weekend and now has a total of $32.1 million versus a production budget of $33 million.

For overall totals, we will compare this weekend with the weekend last year when X2: X-Men United opened. With that in mind, Van Helsing was not enough to keep 2004 ahead of 2003. The first weekend in May last year brought in $138.4 million, with this year's top ten coming in at a much lower $100.9 million.

Top Ten for Weekend of May 7-9 2004
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Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Van Helsing 3,575 New $54.2 $54.2
2 Mean Girls 2,972 +133 $14.0 $42.4
3 Man on Fire 2,846 -140 $7.9 $56.0
4 New York Minute 3,006 New $6.2 $6.2
5 13 Going on 30 3,158 -295 $5.5 $42.6
6 Laws of Attraction 2,449 No Change $3.5 $11.9
7 Kill Bill: Volume 2 1,952 -790 $3.0 $57.8
8 Godsend 2,323 No Change $2.7 $11.3
9 Envy 2,445 No Change $2.6 $10.1
10 The Punisher 1,435 -832 $1.2 $32.1
11 Scooby Doo 2 1,309 -606 $1.0 $81.0
12 Home on the Range 1,356 -654 $1.0 $47.0



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