Hail to the King, baby

John Hamann's Weekend Wrap-Up

April 19-21, 2002

It doesn't matter...if you can't act your way out of a cardboard box.

Universal Pictures' Marketing, Scheduling and Distribution Departments are simply the best out there right now, and have been for the last three summers. The Scorpion King, starring wrestling's The Rock, showed that fact off again this weekend, even with the studio coming off one of their bigger disappointments, the ET re-release. To most, The Rock is the star of The Scorpion King, but when one looks closer, Universal gave this film a whole bunch of reasons to open over $30 million.

Universal has always been the master of the summer release schedule. Back in 1999, Universal book-ended the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace with The Mummy (open $43.37 million) two weeks before, and Julia Roberts' Notting Hill (open $22.13 million) the weekend after. Before that famous May, industry folk thought Universal was nuts, putting two of their biggest films out again TPM (at the time some industry observers thought TPM would open to $100 million; it didn't come close), but the ploy worked excellently. The two films grossed a combined $271.34 million. Universal's April film that year was Life, starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, which broke the April record with $20.4 million, a record that stood until this weekend, when The Rock and his Scorpion King came along.

Universal has always tried to stretch the summer movie season, meaning the studio believed it could open summer-type films largely in April that would provide summer-type grosses as well as excellent second choices to big films opening in May. In 2000, the studio released U-571 in late April, and that film came close to breaking Universal's own record, achieving a $19.55 million open on its way to $80 million. Also in 2000, Universal tried to open the sequel to the first Flintstones movie, Viva Rock Vegas, but audiences were on to them and that film only opened to $10.5 million. April is a tough month for movie releases. It's a big month for sports; the Final Four starts April, and hockey and basketball playoffs end it. April also brings exams to a large part of today's audience, the college student.

What it all falls back to for Universal is marketing, and that's why The Scorpion King opened as the number one film this weekend, grossing $36.2 million, shattering the April box office record. Remember the formula: a film's awareness plus number of venues equals box office success. That's really taking it down to the basics, but it works. Universal set out to raise a high level of awareness for this film, taking the charismatic star of the film and showing him off to an audience beyond wrestling fan-boys. Take, for example, last week's Saturday Night Live, which The Rock hosted. The week before, Cameron Diaz was the host, and that obviously didn't do anything for The Sweetest Thing, but The Rock brought a self-effacing humor to the show. All week I saw replays of the skit where Rock muffed his lines, and instead of unraveling, he played towards his gaffe, again showing the charisma that this future superstar has. This sort of behavior will raise his level of awareness beyond the wrestling ring, and could make him the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. The marketing department also did their thing, giving this release a good Superbowl ad, and a decent, albeit not fantastic, trailer. The one thing that Universal surprisingly did not do was attach itself more to The Mummy franchise, other than giving The Rock a cameo in the second film as The Scorpion King. The marketing didn't emphasize it was related to that franchise, maybe protecting the Brendan Fraser franchise against a potential flop.

After the marketing department at Universal was done, the savvy distribution department swung in. It's been a soft April, and Universal gathered a remarkable amount of screens for this release - 3,443, one of the biggest venue counts ever. Universal knows it has to get as much play out of Scorpion King as possible before Sony's Spiderman hits screens in two weeks. So, with an open of $36.2 million and a screen count of 3,443, TSK ends up with a very solid screen average of $10,514.

Did Universal open TSK so widely on fears of bad word-of-mouth? I don't think so. The Rotten Tomatoes Fresh rating wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Out of 65 reviews, 29 were positive, resulting in a 40% Fresh rating. In comparison, both The Mummy and its sequel had a 47% Fresh rating. CinemaScores were average (B), but the key demo of boys under 21 gave the film an A-, which is exactly what Universal was looking for.

<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Life' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Mummy, The ' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Notting Hill' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps, The' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Bring It On' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'American Pie' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Mummy Returns, The' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Fast and the Furious, The ' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Jurassic Park III' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'American Pie 2'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Universal Extended Summer Chart" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>

The number two film this week was last week's number one film, Changing Lanes, with Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck. The engaging suspense drama about two men hating each other grossed $11.1 million this weekend, down 35% from its surprising debut gross of $17.1 million last weekend. Changing Lanes increased its screen count slightly to 2,642, giving it an average of $4,201 per venue. Its total now stands at $32.8 million, on its way to $50-60 million.

The weekend's other opener, Murder by Numbers from Sandra Bullock and Warner Bros., landed in third. Surprisingly, it was this release that suffered from bad buzz earlier in the week, which may have stunted its opening weekend gross. Regardless, MBN saw $9.51 million in box-office receipts this weekend from 2,663 screens, good enough for a lukewarm average of $3,571.

Sandra Bullock is the queen of the $10-15 million opening weekend. She's been in 15 films that have opened on over 500 screens, and nine of those films have opened between $10-15 million. On top of that, she had one film, While You Were Sleeping, open at $9.2 million, and another, the infamous Speed 2, open to $16.15 million. In gambling terms, Ms. Bullock is easily one of the safest bets in Hollywood. Next up for Sandra is Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which also stars a bevy of great actresses, including Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith and Ashley Judd.

<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Miss Congeniality' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '28 Days' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Forces of Nature' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Practical Magic' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Prince of Egypt, The ' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Hope Floats' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Speed 2' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'In Love and War' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'A Time To Kill' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Net, The' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'While You Were Sleeping' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Speed' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Demolition Man'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Sandra Bullock chart" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>

Jumping up a level from fifth spot last week to fourth spot this week is The Rookie, the sports movie with big legs, which grossed $6.34 million from 2,504 screens. The family-friendly baseball flick dropped only 21.5% this weekend, bringing its total to $53.7 million. This is the best hold yet for the film, after a 31% drop last weekend and a $27% drop the weekend before. This release will forever break the Dennis Quaid curse, as it looks to gross more than $75 million.

Tumbling from second to fifth is David Fincher's Panic Room, which grossed $6.2 million this weekend. Its total now sits at $82.2 million, on its way to $95-100 million.

In sixth is the Fox blockbuster Ice Age. Still the number one opener of the year, the computer-animated movie grossed $5.74 million, this weekend. Its total now stands at $159.5 million. Let's see how that stacks up against some other recent kid-flick successes.

<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Shrek' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Monsters, Inc.' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Princess Diaries, The' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Spy Kids' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Dr. Seuss'' How The Grinch Stole Christmas' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Rugrats' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Rugrats in Paris' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Disney''s The Kid' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'Chicken Run'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Recent Kid Hits" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>

In a disappointing seventh this week is Cameron Diaz's The Sweetest Thing. TST grossed $5.2 million this weekend, down a devastating 45%. The total for the comedy now stands at a troubling $17 million. The quick exit of this film is going to take away any profits Sony had from Panic Room, as the budget for The Sweetest Thing has been pegged at $43 million.

In eighth is another disappointing female-driven picture, Ashley Judd's High Crimes. After getting off to a decent start with a $14 million open, High Crimes has fallen quickly, grossing only $3.77 million in its third weekend of release. High Crimes brings its cume to $30.8 million.

Ninth spot went to the quietly successful Clockstoppers, the teen sci-fi pic from Paramount. Clockstoppers grossed $2.86 million, and brought its gross to a decent $31.9 million.

Partying alone in tenth is Artisan's pledge, Van Wilder. The Ryan Reynolds/Tara Reid flick grossed another $2.25 million this weekend, raising its total to $17.3 million. Sounds like a disappointment right? Not at all, as Artisan spent $6 million on the production of this release.

The top twelve this weekend grossed about $92.3 million, up about 27% from last year, when two opening films flopped hard at the box office. Like a weekend in Hell, the April 20, 2001 weekend brought the dreaded Freddy Got Fingered into our lives, combined with Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

Next weekend is the calm before the storm of Spiderman, as Jason X and Life or Something Like It hit theaters, so The Scorpion King may have a chance at repeating as the number one film. Jason X may surprise next weekend, as the advertising for LOSLI has been soft at best. Visit BOP's Release Schedule for more information on these upcoming releases, as well as Calvin Trager's review of Spiderman.

Top 10 for Weekend of April 19-21, 2002
Number of Sites
Change in Sites from Last
Estimated Gross ($)
Cumulative Gross ($)
The Scorpion King
Changing Lanes
Murder by Numbers
The Rookie
Panic Room
Ice Age
The Sweetest Thing
No change
High Crimes
National Lampoon's Van Wilder



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