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2001: A Box Office Review

Part Nine: September

By Walid Habboub

Your mother has this crazy idea that gambling is wrong...even though they say it's okay in the bible.

September usually kicks off with one of the most anemic weekends of the year, Labor Day weekend, and in 2001, it happened to start on the last day of August. Unlike most Labor Day weekends, however, 2001 proved extremely lucrative as it saw what was far and away the most successful film of that weekend's history.

When the first trailer for Jeepers Creepers came out in mid-2001, audiences were treated to a scary, edgy two and a half minutes that absolutely sold the little film that could. With no stars attached, Jeepers Creepers came across as a tense, fun little horror flick that promised a bit of gore and a lot of B level fun. There was little surprise that it could do well but the surprise was the level of success it did achieve. Jeepers scored what is easily the best Labor Day weekend opening in history doubling all other Labor Day weekend openers except for two. It is the only movie to ever open in double digits over this four-day period and the level of its success cannot be over-exaggerated. During a weekend where almost every conceivable idea had failed, Jeepers triumphed by pulling in $15.8 million against its production budget of $10 million; a success in every sense of the word. Hopefully, this will encourage studios to release larger summer films later on into August and extend what is becoming a very crowded summer season.

The other opener for the Labor Day weekend was the Julia Stiles/Josh Hartnett film “O,” a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Othello. The film was the source of much controversy before it was even released. After the events at Columbine, the film was dropped by its studio and lingered in limbo before Lions Gate picked it up and gave it a decent push. The film did modest business by pulling in $6.9 million on only 1,434 screens for a solid per screen average of $4,811. The movie, however, disappeared quickly from theatres, probably due to the heavy nature of its theme. Complementing both “O” and Jeepers Creepers was The Deep End, which saw its widest release during this weekend. Following an excellent run, which saw it pull in $3.29 million, the film eventually ended up on a grand total of 326 screens and wound up with a very respectable total of $8.82 million. Featuring one of the best acting performances of the year, The Deep End was a quiet surprise and proved that quality cinema can be successful any time of the year. This highly successful weekend would set the stage for the (technically) true first weekend of September.

September 2001 saw very few movies open in the wake of the attacks in New York on the 11th day of the month. Slightly influenced by the attacks, only nine movies opened in what is always traditionally the weakest movie month of the year. The month was nevertheless interesting at the box office as it offered at least one laugher and a couple of surprises.

The month started off strongly with three films opening to a total of more than $23 million, led by the surprise hit The Musketeer. This Matrixed version of the Alexander Dumas classic surprised many by opening in double-digit territory on 2,438 screens. Bringing in $10.31 million in its first weekend and a total of $27.05 million for its entire run, The Musketeer sliced its way out of theatres quite quickly as it received horrible critical reviews and terrible word of mouth. Nevertheless, this amount made a big dent in the journey to making back the film's budget of $40 million.

The two other films opening that weekend were the African-American targeted dating comedy Two Can Play That Game and the ode-to-80s-rock inspired film Rock Star. While Two Can Play was a very nice surprise when it pulled in $7.72 million on only 1,297 screens, for a respectable per screen average of $5,952, Rock Star was huge disappointment when it totalled only $6.02 million on a weekend best 2,525 screens. Rock Star was the second widest opener and the third worst performer of the month.

The best legs of the month go to Hardball, the Keanu Reeves vehicle which had him playing a gambling scumbag who has to coach a baseball team of inner city kids and opened during the second week of the month. Having a total box office multiplier of a very impressive 4.28, the movie debuted with a whimper before it rolled along to do impressive overall business; it was easily the third highest grosser of the month. Also debuting that month to very little fan fare was The Glass House, a mildly advertised film which also ended up having good legs with a total multiplier of 3.14, second best for the month. So while it is difficult to ascertain exactly how the events in New York affected the box office exactly, we can conclude that perhaps it deflated the numbers for the weekend immediately following the events and perhaps the strong legs of both these films are the result of the tragedies and not a reflection of quality.

The third weekend of the month of September featured the joke of the year, Glitter. Following what can only be described as a most disturbing summer, Mariah Carey debuted Glitter to much ridicule and scrutiny and the film has now fallen to the realm of late night talk show punch lines. Grossing a total of $4.24 million and remaining at theatres just a bit longer than it takes to fix up Mariah's hair; the film mercilessly disappeared after garnering a weekend to total multiplier of only 1.7. Weep for Mariah.

September finished off quite strongly with three well-promoted, star-driven movies that did decent business. First there was the creepily advertised Michael Douglas thriller Don't Say A Word. The movie said a lot when it opened to an extremely strong $18 on its way to a monthly best $55 million, recouping its $50 million budget and then some. Second place belonged to Zoolander, the Ben Stiller movie based on the character he developed for the VH1 Fashion Awards ceremonies. Debuting in 2507 venues, the movie opened to $15.7 million and had per screen average of $6,262, just slightly less than Don't Say's per screen of $6,423. Zoolander strutted its way to a healthy total of $45.16 against a budget of only $28 million. The last film of the weekend is the Anthony Hopkins starrer, Heart In Atlantis, a movie based on a Stephen King short story. After receiving a nice ramp up in limited release, Hearts managed to open to $9.53 million on only 1,751 screens for a very good per screen average of $5,442. The movie went on to make a total of $24.19, which was not enough to recoup its production budget of $31 million.

Overall, it was a slow month at the box office. The final week mimicked that of the last week of September of 1999, the most successful September ever. Of note, a major film that was scheduled for release during September was Big Trouble, starring Tim Allen. The crime comedy was already receiving a decent, though painful to watch, marketing push, when the movie was yanked (at the time) indefinitely due to it having a plot involving the proposed bombing of a plane. The effects of the attacks on the World Trade Center were also felt during the following weeks as movies originally slated for October releases were delayed as well; this subject will be covered in the October wrap-up.

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