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Waiting for the Scorpion

David Mumpower's Weekend Wrap-Up

April 12-14, 2002

Affleck, I'm warning you. Stop calling me Mr. Glass!

Three new films entered the marketplace this weekend, and North American audiences reacted with a loud yawn. So far in 2002, we have seen that no matter the quality, most films these days open to double digits. If we exclude Oscar platform releases, 2002 to date has seen 25 out of 35 wide releases open to $10 million or more. This means that roughly two out of every three releases in 2002 have reached the double-digit plateau.

The combination of all-time high ticket prices and studios driven to get viewers into theaters opening weekend in order to make the most money possible from their uniquely front-ended agreements with exhibitors has led to this trend. This weekend was no exception, as three largely blasé releases with little going for them other than star power all entered the marketplace, and just as has been the case all year, two of the three managed double-digit openings despite facing the obstacle of meager quality.

Changing Lanes is the winner for the weekend, as it opened with a surprising estimated total of $17.55 million from 2,613 venues for a per-screen average of $6,716. Changing Lanes offered the premiere acting ensemble of this weekend's entries, thanks to the presence of three Academy Award-nominated stars in Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson and Toni Collette. The film has been positioned as an action film about road rage between Affleck and Jackson's characters, leading to a dramatic version of What's the Worst That Could Happen (yikes!), with their blood feud threatening to destroy both of their lives.

Now that the movie is in theaters, it has become apparent through reviews and word-of-mouth that Changing Lanes is better described as a treatise on the social contract. This is a challenging commentary piece not unlike another recent Hollywood film with an A-list actor, John Q. Obviously, this is not going to sell tickets to people looking to see Shaft and Mr. Pearl Harbor, so the marketing wisely blurred the issue of the film's subject matter and instead focused on the stars involved, the intense sequences of the crash and the two men threatening to destroy each other's lives.

The strategy worked very well and garnered first place for Paramount Pictures, but how Changing Lanes performs long term will be determined by whether audiences are generally kind in the way they describe this challenging piece to their friends. Early results on this are mixed, as the average CinemaScores for Changing Lanes are a B-minus, but its score at Rotten Tomatoes is a very strong 79%. With the corollary to 2002 releases opening much bigger being that theatrical legs are naturally being deflated, this title might have difficulty in staying afloat in the coming weeks. Still, the studio has to be very pleased that for the seventh straight time, they opened a film in double digits. We have to go all the way back to Hardball in September to find the last time they failed to do so, and even in that case, the movie finished first for the weekend. The chart below sums up very well the studio's opening weekend winning streak.


<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'We Were Soldiers' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Crossroads%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Changing Lanes%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Orange County%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Jimmy Neutron%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Vanilla Sky%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Domestic Disturbance%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Zoolander%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Hardball%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Rat Race%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%The Score%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Tomb Raider%'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Recent Paramount Releases" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>



Falling out of first place after two weeks on top is Panic Room. The David Fincher-directed, tension-filled action drama is about a mother and a child trapped in a secure area which holds an item thieves are trying to take. It fell 38.0% this week as it took second place. Its weekend tally of $11.3 million gives it a total of $74.1 million after 17 days. Relative to its $48 million budget, Panic Room is a definite winner for Sony and a much-needed hit for Jodie Foster. Her only film since Contact was the disappointing Anna and the King, which made less than $40 million in North America (though it did recoup its budget, thanks to worldwide ticket sales). With only a small film on the slate for the remainder of 2002 in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Foster would have been in an uncomfortable position if Panic Room had not been a success. Her reluctance to work counteracts her natural talent as an actress in a lot of Hollywood circles, but it's a town of short memories, and her last film is now a solid hit.

Finishing in a disappointing third place this weekend is The Sweetest Thing, a Sex in the City-esque romantic comedy from former South Park scribe Nancy Pimental. It received an estimated $10.0 million in box-office receipts from 2,670 venues for a weak per-screen average of $3,745. The marketing campaign for this movie cleverly played up the natural tie-ins to Something About Mary and downplayed the fact that The Sweetest Thing could be accurately described as a female Road Trip. This was done out of fear that they might alienate at least a portion of the female target demographic. Whether this proves to be a mistake will be determined in later weeks, as word-of-mouth shows if more people might have shown up opening weekend if they had realized what a unique movie this was. A sex comedy written by women for women with a star on the level of Cameron Diaz is truly unique in this era, and not playing this part of it up might go down as a misfire for Sony. In fact, this opening is smaller than the one they earned for Not Another Teen Movie, a December parody comedy that certainly didn't have a superstar on the level of Cameron Diaz in it. Below are Sony's recent performances.


<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Black Hawk Down%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%America''s Sweethearts%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like 'One, The' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Not Another Teen%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Mothman Prophecies%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Riding in Cars%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Panic Room%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Glass House, The%'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Recent Sony Releases" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>


Cameron Diaz continues her trend of being a nice addition to a cast but one who struggles when asked to carry a picture. In titles such as Charlie's Angels, Vanilla Sky and (arguably) Shrek, she is a key to these productions' extraordinary successes, but not the sole causality. Conversely, in films such as Any Given Sunday, Being John Malkovich and Very Bad Things, where she is clearly the biggest draw, the openings have been inconsistent and less than stellar. Her next slate of films is in the former category, as she appears with Leonardo DiCaprio in Gangs of New York and in the sequels to Charlie's Angels and Shrek (again as a voice talent). While the Gangs of New York production has been the subject of many wagging tongues (including my own), Titanic looked to be similarly troubled prior to release, so we can't draw any conclusions about this project as of now. The sequels, on the other hand, will do monster business and again secure Ms. Diaz's place as the second $20 million-per-movie actress in Hollywood.


<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%The Sweetest Thing%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Shrek%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Charlie''s Angels%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Vanilla Sky%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Any Given Sunday%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Being John Mal%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Very Bad Things%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%There''s Something About Mary%'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Cameron Diaz Releases" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>


In fourth place is 2002's biggest hit to date, Ice Age. While it remains to be seen if The Scorpion King can overtake these animated animals in the coming days, Ice Age is, as of this moment, the king of the hill in 2002, with current box-office receipts of $151.7 million. The movie fell 35.9% from last weekend, for an estimated take of $8.7 million from a still-impressive 3,011 venues. Exhibitors are just now beginning to enjoy the benefits of this film's ticket sales, so don't be surprised if it hangs around theaters until the summer blockbusters arrive.

In fifth place is the wonderful baseball movie, The Rookie. Its estimated weekend take of $8.1 million is a drop of only 30.8% from last frame, demonstrating that the film is finding its target audience and they are lapping it up. A non-animated, G-rated movie is extraordinary in this day and age, but the sweet sensibilities of this film about second chances is making parents want to share the experience with their kids. Good for them. This author highly recommends that you grab a loved one and go enjoy some good, old-fashioned Disney magic.

Falling from second place last weekend to sixth place this time is High Crimes. It made an estimated $8.0 million over the three-day period and has a running total of $25.5 million after ten days. High Crimes fell 43.0% from its opening weekend, and looks to just about break even on its $42 million budget. It's a slightly more successful film than her last outings, Someone Like You and Where the Heart Is, but it's certainly no Kiss the Girls or Double Jeopardy. Fortunately for Ashley Judd, her next film, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, has all the makings of a hit.


<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Kiss the Girls%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Double Jeopardy%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Someone Like You%' OR" sqlstr = sqlstr + " movie like '%Where the Heart Is%'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Ashley Judd's Recent Releases" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>


Clockstoppers, the sci-fi teenybopper movie directed by a man who knows a thing or two about sci-fi, Jonathon Frakes, continues to create a niche for itself in the marketplace. It made an estimated $4.8 million for the weekend, and has now made $28.2 million. While Clockstoppers had a budget of $26 million - unusually large for this genre - it is still going to be nicely profitable, as most of the films aimed at this demographic in recent months have been. Pre-teens and teens are a force at the box office, and movie marketers are beginning to appreciate how easy they are to target through saturated campaigns on Nickelodeon and MTV. Don't be surprised if a ton of these sorts of films are made and released in the coming months, as Hollywood tries fiscal practicality on for a change.

Last week's disappointment, Van Wilder, comes in eighth for the weekend, with an estimated tally of $4.2 million. The oft-delayed movie finally made it into theaters last weekend, but no one seemed to notice. Fortunately, the production was one of the cheapest for a wide release so far this year, so it's already in the black for Artisan. Even better news is that this is exactly the sort of movie that finds a cult audience on video, so the ancillary income will make this a surprisingly successful project overall for the studio.

Tying for eighth place is this week's DOA opener, Frailty. There was a grassroots advertising campaign employed which hoped to capitalize on the trust and respect movie viewers have for people such as Stephen King and James Cameron. The tactic of having them describe their own experiences in watching the movie seemed like a daring ploy, but it didn't excite exhibitors, who only screened Frailty in 1,497 venues, nor did it excite audiences. The movie opened to a very disappointing estimated $4.2 million, for a per-screen average of $2,806. Even worse, the film's CinemaScores of B-minus indicate that people watching the film opening day didn't enjoy it the way King and Cameron did. Movie critics were kinder, giving the film a Rotten Tomatoes score of 73%. Frailty needs a miracle if it is going to find any success at the box office. Fortunately, with a miniscule budget of $11 million, the film is not going to be a big loss for Lions Gate, though it's also unlikely to be profitable. Exhibitors will drop this listing at first opportunity in two weeks, when their contracts are up.

Rounding out the top ten with an estimated $4.1 million is Blade II. The title is losing steam, and looks to fall just shy of the magical $100 million threshold, but it has now passed We Were Soldiers and John Q. It is poised to overtake Snow Dogs for third place out of true 2002 releases after being passed by Panic Room today. More good news for New Line is that Blade II has easily surpassed the $70 million take of the original, a rare feat for a sequel. Blade III is a near certainty at this point.

This weekend was up quite a bit from last year's second weekend of April when four new films entered the marketplace, but only one of them, Bridget Jones's Diary, opened over $10 million. Box office was up 14.1% for the top ten, with weekend receipts estimated at $80.92 million compared to 2001's total of $70.89 million.

Next weekend sees the debut of non-sequel to The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King, the first starring role for WWF superstar The Rock, AKA Duane Johnson. Tracking for the film indicates that we are in store for a box-office explosion. As a potentially clever tactic of counter-programming, Warner Bros. is slotting their own Murder By Numbers against Universal's largely-male demographic behemoth in hopes that some women will not be interested in joining their male companions in the theater and might be interested in seeing Sandra Bullock do a mean Kay Scarpetta impersonation. As always, for more information about upcoming movie releases, check out the BOP release schedule.


Top 10 for Weekend of April 12-14, 2002
Rank
Film
Number of Sites
Change in Sites from Last
Estimated Gross ($)
Cumulative Gross ($)
1
Changing Lanes
2,613
New
17.6
17.6
2
Panic Room
3,119
+66
11.3
74.1
3
The Sweetest Thing
2,670
New
10.0
10.0
4
Ice Age
3,011
-189
8.7
151.7
5
The Rookie
2,520
-4
8.1
45.3
6
High Crimes
2,747
+30
8.0
25.5
7
Clockstoppers
2,512
-51
4.8
28.2
8
National Lampoon's Van Wilder
2,104
-8
4.2
13.8
9
Frailty
1,497
New
4.2
4.2
10
Blade II
2,174
-387
4.1
73.7

     


 
 

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