Hero Conquers

Weekend Wrap-Up for August 27-29, 2004

By David Mumpower

August 29, 2004

I like your robe.

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Four new theatrical releases entered the marketplace this weekend and movie audiences promptly responded by staying home to watch the Olympics and the first game of the college football season. Two of the four new entries failed to make a blip on the box office radar, while one performed almost exactly as expected and the other put a huge smile on BOP columnist Chris Hyde’s face.

Almost exactly a year and a half ago, Mr. Hyde petitioned the leader of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, to take Hero out of the box office graveyard and release it into theaters. Hyde’s complaint was that the studio spent several million dollars acquiring titles such as this one and Shaolin Soccer only to leave them sitting on the shelf for a notable period of time for no good reason. Hyde’s basic lament involved the lack of rationality behind such decisions, but his larger complaint as a movie lover was that he regretted his inability to see the films on the big screen as was intended by director Zhang Yimou. It now appears that Hyde was not the only one.

Hero opened to an estimated $17.8 million this weekend in 2,031 venues, a scintillating per-venue average of $8,764. The performance is the fourth largest of the month to date, a spectacular feat for a film that has languished in limbo at Miramax for two years now. The marketing campaign, which highlighted established action star Jet Li and credited the uninvolved Quentin Tarantino with a QT Presents at one point, proved to be irresistible to movie audiences. It was critics, though, who loved the film the most. 102 out of 108 of them at Rotten Tomatoes gave a huge thumb up to the Rashomon-like tale of one man’s struggle to gain a meeting with the emperor. Kim Hollis and I jumped the gun a bit back in May of last year with our She Said/He Said reviews. We could not wait for the Weinsteins to find the perfect place on the schedule to slot the film, so we imported the multi-region disc.

As for where Hero goes from here, that is a matter of some speculation. The thought process has always been that a trailer highlighting the awe-inspiring martial arts sequences in the film could lure opening weekend audiences into theaters. How well they would receive the project is an altogether different subject, though. Critics are less inclined to dismiss a film out of hand for being a subtitled existential treatise on what it means to rule an empire. Many members of the audiences led to believe that Hero would be a series of knockout brawls between Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen and Jet Li probably walked away disappointed. The question becomes how passionate those who loved it will be in describing the film to their friends. Hero is likely to be a one-weekend wonder like so many summer 2004 films before it…but what a weekend. Hero’s $17.8 million tally is over $7 million more than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon managed in any single frame of its incredible box office run.

Finishing a not-so-distant second is Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. The movie accumulated an estimated $13.2 million from 2,905 venues for a disappointing per-venue average of $4,544. The original film’s success was the instigator in the animals-eating-humans cineporn we have seen lately. The 1997 release opened to $16.6 million, a number that inflation adjusts to over $22 million. The largely unknown and/or inexperienced cast of actors for the original included Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez. Despite their presence, the film was considered to confirm that any low budget film that features the terror of our species matriculating at a lizard’s equivalent of Bovine University will be a money maker.

Testing this maxim by taking it to the logical extreme, the sequel stars only one person, Morris Chestnut, who is identifiable even to the most diehard of movie-goers. Was the absence of Lopez and Cube a larger concern than had been previously suspected? That’s an answer we’ll never know, but the Anaconda sequel is going to be lucky to make half of the original production’s $65.6 million.

Showing a shockingly strong holdover this week is our third place entrant, Without a Paddle. The Seth Green flick’s opening weekend tally of $13.5 million was surprising enough, but the second weekend decline of 35.7% is jaw dropping. Without A Paddle’s estimated total of $8.7 million and running tally of $27.9 million shows that this film has the makings of being another unexpected hit similar to Green’s 2001 release, Rat Race. As one of the people who were first in line to mock the movie, I accept the blame here for being unduly harsh and snarky. This one is going to go down in the record books as a winner.

Another movie that does not see the standard summer 2004 decline this weekend is The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement. While this movie’s holdover is not as surprising as the title above it, the 38.2% drop for this sequel is finally a batch of good news for Disney. The Princess Diaries sequel already stands at $75 million after only 12 days of release. The estimated weekend tally of $8.0 million means that if the film does get to $100 million, it won’t get far beyond that point. But the original title’s $108.2 million will at least be approached if not exceeded by its sequel.

Last weekend’s surprise winner is this weekend’s fifth place plummet. Exorcist: The Beginning brings in an estimated $6.7 million in its second frame, a devastating decline of 62.7% million from its initial success. While not at all surprising, this decline does confirm Tim Briody’s concerns from last weekend. The people who wanted to see the movie showed up on its first Friday, meaning that the running tally of $30.8 million is indicative of a movie that will be lucky to cross the $50 million barrier…if that.

Also falling 38% this week is our sixth place finisher, Collateral. The Tom Cruise Is Scary Scary thriller hauls in another $6.3 million from 2,728 venues, giving it a per-venue average of $2,309. The film is sitting right at $80 million after a month, and the main reason it has not lost screens is the middling nature of the other August releases. With only a couple of notable early September titles, Collateral could continue to run on an even keel for a while to come yet. Whether it will wind up being an end-of-year awards contender is an issue to be resolved in the coming months as the critics season begins to heat up.

The financial success story of the summer continues to be the number seven entrant, Open Water. Made for a reported $275,000, a number that is over double what the film’s creator is now saying in interviews, The Blair Shark Project brings in another $5.0 million this weekend from 2,709 venues, a per-venue average of $1,846. From a cost vs. receipts perspective, Open Water is going to go down as one of the one of the most profitable of the modern era. The current box office of $23.5 million is almost 100 times what was spent in making the film. The film’s performance is enough to give hope to any enterprising filmmaker in the world. Just find a couple of suckers…err, actors, then scare the bejeezus out of them on camera. The concept has worked twice now. Who is to say it won’t work again?

Alien vs. Predator continues to run an odd race out of the spotlight. The movie plunged another 61.3% with an estimated $4.8 million, falling another four spots to eighth place. After an opening weekend shock of $38.3 million, AvP has done everything it possibly can do to get itself kicked out of theaters in record time. The running tally of $72 million indicates that the movie is going to barely double its opening weekend intake before exiting the local cineplex. Alien vs. Predator lost 521 venues from last week, but it still held onto 2,880. Even considering the lackluster fare of the next two weeks of releases, that atrocious $1,667 per-venue average is going to force vendors to take a hard look at replacements.

The Bourne Supremacy continues to linger in theaters. Still exhibited in 2,079 venues, the Matt Damon spy thriller brought in another $4.6 million this weekend. The sequel has now earned $157.7 million, an increase of right at 30% and over $36 million in actual dollars from the original. The Jason Bourne series is arguably the most successful franchise launch of the new millennium to date.

Rounding out the top ten this weekend is one of the four openers, Suspect Zero. The movie received almost no marketing campaign, so the $3.4 million performance in 1,500 venues isn’t that terrible all things considered. Sure, the per-venue average of $2,267 is the opposite of good, but for a film to not be advertised much at all and to receive such a small venue count, it could have been worse.

And speaking of worse, finishing outside the top ten is the other new release, Super Babies: Baby Geniuses 2. When the end of days has come and the ultimate list is made of unwanted sequels, I will argue with my creator if this is not standing at the top of the chart. To my utter shock and disdain, though, a group of people disagreed with me. Baby Geniuses 2 (just typing it is like bile in my mouth) earned an estimated $3.3 million from 1,276 venues for a per-venue average of $2,586. To those of you who attended the opening weekend of this project, I simply want you to know how disappointed I am in you.

Box office for the top ten this week is $78.6 million. That's down 18.2% ($17.5 million) from last weekend. Despite the presence of four new openers, the weakness of the bottom duo combined with the heavy depreciation of a couple of previously solid performers led to a weak summer frame.

Next weekend is the four-day holiday period of Labor Day. Historically, this date on the calendar has marked the end of the summer movie campaign. That time frame is also well known for its lack of significant activity at the box office since consumers are at the lake putting more meat on the grill instead of inhabiting the local cineplex. Lately, an exception has been created to this rule as the two horror creations comprising the Jeepers Creepers franchise (and please let there only be two) found some success over Labor Day weekend.

This year looks to be back to normal, though. All four films scheduled for the holiday look to be quickly forgotten dump projects rather than legitimate box office contenders. Cole Hauser’s Paparazzi is a movie that would seem to appeal only to Hollywood A-listers, and all of them can go to the film’s premiere for free if they want to see it. The Cookout is an African-American comedy about the trials and tribulations of becoming a star athlete at a young age. Wicker Park is a Josh Hartnett suspense thriller about a man whose girlfriend suddenly gets replaced overnight. Vanity Fair is a theatrical adaptation of the classic novel. The Reese Witherspoon production is facing a surprising amount of negative buzz, causing it to jump the gun by going straight into national release rather than attempt to build through word-of-mouth. In short, next weekend looks just as ugly as this weekend and last weekend did.

Top Ten for Weekend of August 27-29, 2004
of Sites
Percentage Drop
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Hero 2,031 New 17.8 17.8
2 Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid 2,905 New 13.2 13.2
3 Without a Paddle 2,730 -36% 8.7 27.9
4 The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement 3,331 -38% 8.1 75.0
5 Exorcist: The Beginning 2,813 -63% 6.7 30.8
6 Collateral 2,728 -38% 6.3 80.0
7 Open Water 2,709 -56% 5.0 23.5
8 Alien vs. Predator 2,880 -61% 4.8 72.1
9 The Bourne Supremacy 2,080 -29% 4.6 157.7
10 Suspect Zero 1,500 New 3.4 3.4



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