2001: A Box Office Review

Part Eight: August

By John Hamann

Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?

Sixteen films hit wide release in August 2001, making for a busy end to the chaotic summer of 2001. Like the other summer months, there were big hits followed by big depreciation, but that trend did soften somewhat with fewer event pics hitting the screen. Flops also abounded this past August, but the dumping-ground syndrome of Augusts past abated a bit.

The first weekend of the eighth month started off with a bang, giving 2001 its fourth huge-opening film, Rush Hour 2. Big things had been expected for Rush Hour 2, as the reuniting of Tucker and Chan had been advertised in packed cinemas throughout June and July. However, even with the advanced build-up for the buddy-comedy, analysts were floored when the film opened to a mind-boggling $67.41 million from 3,118 screens. The huge debut gave the film the fourth biggest opening ever, and made it the third film of 2001 to open bigger than 1999's Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Rush Hour 2 was able to reach great heights with a somewhat smaller screen count, probably only due to the wide selection of films in release at the time. Where this film would have ended up with a screen count like the one Planet of the Apes had (3,500 screens), nobody knows. Rush 2 had an astounding screen average of $21,620, so if the film had seen an extra 400 screens, its overall average would have been reduced somewhat. Even at $20,000 per screen on 3,500 screens, Rush Hour 2 would have netted an opening weekend gross in the $70 million range. This is absolutely unheard of for an August release. No film before Rush Hour 2 had opened above $50 million in August, let alone $60 million. In fact, the record for the biggest August first-weekend release before Rush Hour 2 was The Sixth Sense, which made $26.68 million in August 1999, less than half of RH2's opening weekend gross. One interesting note about August is that if a film doesn't open in the first weekend of August, its chances of breaking out become quickly diminished. Of the top ten openers in August, only one, 1995's Mortal Kombat, was released in the middle of the month, but a sequel was about to change that.

To go with the big hit of August, we also had a surprise hit and a huge flop. Original Sin, Angelina Jolie's follow up to the massive opening of Tomb Raider, died out of the gate, with poor marketing and a sex angle that was uninviting. It opened to $6.4 million, and managed to gross only $16.43 million against a budget of $26 million. On the other hand, The Princess Diaries, which managed to come out of the gate strong against tough competition from Rush Hour 2, opened to $22.86 million from 2,537 screens. The real story is the legs of this film, as good word-of-mouth carried the Julie Andrews flick above and beyond the $100 million mark, resting finally at $108.24 million, with megabucks to come from home video, cable, and the eventual showings on ABC television.

The second weekend of August was basically the same as the first weekend. We had a sequel perform well, a quiet surprise hit, and a mega-flop. Those crazy American Pie kids were back with the aptly titled American Pie 2, which grossed a somewhat-expected $45.12 million. The opening gross more than doubled the opening gross of the first film ($18.71 million), but didn't vastly improve on the overall figure. The original American Pie made it past the $100 million mark to $101.74 million, giving it a opening-to-total multiplier of 5.44. The second film did not have nearly the legs, as it ended up with $145.1 million, but only had an opening-to-total multiplier of 3.22. This trend is standard for most sequels, with the first film having a smaller opening followed by good legs, and the sequels having the opposite effect.

The flop in the second weekend belonged to Osmosis Jones, a much-troubled production from the folks at Warner Bros. OJ was an animated/live-action mix with star power from Bill Murray, Chris Rock, David Hyde Pierce, Laurence Fishburne and Brandy. This large mistake cost the studio a reported $75 million, made only $5.27 million in its opening weekend, and led to a dreadful $13.57 million finish, becoming one of the biggest flops ever.

The Others, with Nicole Kidman, was the small surprise, as it opened to $14.09 million, but the story of The Others is really still to come.

The following weekend brought two awful films, American Outlaws and Captain Corelli's Mandolin to movie theatres, and dropped off the leggy Rat Race as well. Rat Race had star power and an old-school plot that was a throwback to the earlier days of Hollywood, when more than one or two decent names would appear in a film. Stars in Rat Race included John Cleese, Seth Green, Rowan Atkinson, Breckin Myer, Cuba Gooding and Whoopi Goldberg, just to name a few. The film had a great ad campaign that moviegoers talked about weeks before it opened. Rat Race ended up with a solid opening weekend figure of $11.66 million, and had a decent opening-to-total multiplier of 4.81, giving a final box-office total of $56.09 million. American Outlaws and Captain Correlli died on the vine, with openings of $4.86 and $7.21 million, respectively. Like most weekends in August 2001, American Pie 2 and Rush Hour 2 continued to be the hot films for the movie-going public, with AP2 taking first spot (with a 53% drop-off) and RH2 took second. The Others held the four spot, dropping only 22%.

The August 24th weekend had five openers, and none of them really caught fire. Openings were Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Bubble Boy, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Summer Catch and the truly awful John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars. Only one was able to open above $10 million, and that was Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Bubble Boy, Disney's wacky teen comedy about, well, a boy in a bubble, really failed to make a mark, finishing opening weekend with a total surprisingly less than Woody Allen's Jade Scorpion. Again, American Pie 2 in its third week managed first, and Rush Hour 2 managed second in its fourth weekend, really putting the emphasis on the weakness of the batch of new product. The Others also continued to hold the fourth spot, dropping a similar 21.5%, bringing its total to $46 million.

August, much like all the other months in 2001, really surprised analysts with its power at the box office. Looking forward to 2002, there is again a lot of heat in the first weekend, with Mel Gibson's Signs, Vin Diesel's xXx, and what could be a sleeper in A Guy Thing with Jason Lee and Julia Stiles.

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