2001: A Box Office Review

Part Two: February

By David Mumpower


Hannibal. Hannibal. Hannibal.

Our discussion of February begins and ends with the monolithic opening of this sequel to Silence of the Lambs. As we move forward in our analysis of 2001 trending, there is no more important date throughout the year than February 9, 2001. This is the moment when box office prognosticators saw their chins fall to the floor with the arrival of daily numbers indicating that Hannibal had made $19.78 million on opening day. It's difficult to describe how huge a tally that was at the time so I will offer up some points of reference for you. $19.78 million made Hannibal the seventh largest opening ever during the month of February. More amazingly, it was the fourth highest opening ever for an R-rated film during the off-season of January-March (trailing only Erin Brockovich, Scream 3 and Payback). All after a single day in theaters.

When Hannibal box office receipts came in for Saturday, February 10, 2001, an even more staggering sum of $23.49 million was achieved. This represented the fifth largest single day of box office ever, trailing only two days of box office from Star Wars: Episode One and two days of box office from The Lost World. To see a listing these performances, read the Daily Records section of BOP. $23.49 million represented the second largest opening ever for the month of February and third largest R-rated opening for a first quarter release. Combining the two days of box office, Hannibal had already shattered the February record Scream 3 opening of $34.71 million as well as Scary Movie's R-rated record opening of $42.35 million by attaining Friday and Saturday receipts of $43.27 million. And it still had Sunday to go.

Hannibal had nothing else to achieve at this point but to see how high it could get on the glorified list of all-time opening weekend performances. The answer turned out to be third place as Hannibal's weekend tally was confirmed as $58.00 million, a total just ahead of Mission: Impossible II's Friday-Sunday sum of $57.85 million and Toy Story 2's tally of $57.39 million. Hannibal did fall well short of Episode One's $64.81 million and The Lost World's $72.13 million. Even so, the dominant opening weekend performance of Hannibal is impossible to ignore.

The success of this production destroyed two long held myths of box office. First, it demonstrated that people will go see a film that looks great no matter what the rating of that movie may be. Certainly, not everyone may go see an R-rated release but if the product is good enough, an ultra opening north of $55 million is easily attainable. Secondly, and most importantly, a blockbuster film may be released on any Friday during the course of the year and still make a boatload of money. The first quarter of the year was historically considered to be a dumping ground for inferior movies but Hannibal changed all of that forever. Even now, we are just beginning to see this dramatic impact with early year 2002 releases such as Black Hawk Down, Resident Evil and We Were Soldiers. All of these titles were at one point considered locks for the Summer 2002 schedule but instead were slotted in the January-March period because their studios had the knowledge that any of them could do incredible business in this time frame thanks to the model of Hannibal.

Including opening weekend, Hannibal remained the number one movie in North America for three straight weekends and finished with an impressive tally of $164.97 million in domestic receipts. Equally good news for MGM, the distributing studio, was that Hannibal earned another $184.20 million worldwide for overall receipts of roughly $350 million. Also, a perfunctory glance at BOP's video database listing for Hannibal reveals an additional $87 million in rental receipts thus far. Against a budget of only $87 million, we may obviously infer that this film went a long way in insuring a very good 2001 campaign for MGM.

The rest of February was mundane with only a few surprises here and there. The month began with returning end of January champion The Wedding Planner starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey maintaining first place with $10.61 million. It just beat the opening weekend of Valentine, the movie debut of TV's Angel, David Boreanaz. Valentine's tally of $10.02 million was good enough for second place. Further good news for the horror flick was that the budget was only $10 million so Valentine was in the black after only three days in theaters. Unfortunately, there was no other good news for Valentine from that moment on as it earned only $10.34 million more in the rest of its domestic run. This is one of the worst performances of movie "legs" in box office history for a $10 million opener. The only other films that were similar in making half of their final box office totals opening weekend would be Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows and Battlefield Earth. That is clearly not the sort of company a movie wants to keep.

The weekend of February 2, 2001, also saw three other new entries go into wide release. Head Over Heels, a long forgotten romantic comedy starring Monica Potter and Freddie Prinze Jr. failed to capture the hearts of audiences. It opened to a weak $4.8 million and was gone from theaters within a couple of weeks, only accumulating $10.4 in that time frame.

Another box office failure was the amibitious Left Behind. Distributed by newcomer Cloud Ten Pictures, this Kirk Cameron starrer was an attempt by a few key financiers to make a film with overtly religious themes to slay the demons of Hollywood by winning the box office weekend. There was an interesting campaign to release the film on video and include coupons for viewings of the movie in order to boost its opening weekend performance. Also, the movie was based on a popular series of books so there was at least some built in audience for it. Cloud Ten managed to attain 867 venues for its opening weekend and there were boisterous projections from its fans that the $17.4 million budget would be made back on opening weekend. Alas, North American audiences are pretty easy to read in situations such as these. If you can watch a movie on video in the comfort of your own home, you are unlikely to go out to the theater to catch said movie in a crowded room full of strangers. Left Behind was thereby damned (here come the nasty e-mails) to a pathetic box office performance of $2.16 million opening weekend and $4.11 million during its brief domestic run. The film's supporters maintain that Left Behind has made back its budget and then some during the video run but confirming numbers are hard to find.

The final wide release from the first weekend of February was O Brother Where Art Thou?, the latest unusual film from the Coen Brothers. After getting a limited release in 2001 to qualify for Oscar consideration, O Brother platformed into 809 venues with over $13 million in receipts already earned. Its $3.65 million total during its first weekend in wide release was a precursor for bigger things to come. Within two weeks, the production had received Academy Award nominations for cinematography and adapted screenplay. From there, it steadily performed in theaters until the end of July and wound up with a dazzling $45.51 million earned while the music which drove the film led to a platinum selling soundtrack. O Brother's $26 million budget was definitely a savvy investment for its studio, Buena Vista.

With the February 9th release of Hannibal, another film rode in on its coattails. That project was Saving Silverman, a comedy starring several rising talents including Jack Black of High Fidelity, Jason Biggs of American Pie, Stephen Zahn of Happy, Texas and Amada Peet of Jack & Jill and The Whole Nine Yards. Unfortunately, their combined talents could not hide the fact that the movie did not look that funny. It opened to a disappointing $7.41 million and exited theaters after only $19.35 million in receipts. The good news for the studio, Sony, was that on a budget of $22.4 million, Saving Silverman was only a marginal loss during its theatrical run. It also has been earning some positive buzz during its video release, making $27.10 million in this manner.

The four-day holiday period of February 16th - 19th again saw Hannibal win the top spot but three new films also entered the marketplace. The one with the most media attention prior to release was Sweet November, a bittersweet romance starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. This project was considered by many to be a can't miss hit but then reviews came in for it. They confirmed that there was nothing sweet about this film and its very disappointing $9.73 million opening weekend and final box office total of $25.13 million are a testament to this effect. Relative to its smallish budget of $40 million, Sweet November was not a complete wipeout but when the caliber of the stars is considered, it's certainly a very disappointing box office performance. On a personal note, the author warns one and all to avoid this movie like the plague. Awful, awful film.

The other lesser release on February 16th was Recess: School's Out. This animated film with a tiny budget of $10 million was a Disney production based upon a popular television series. It opened to $10.07 million over the Friday-Sunday period and made an additional $3.4 million on President's Day so it was definitely a hit relative to budget. Before all was said and done, Recess finished with $36.70 million and has earned $13.00 million more on home video. A very nice little production.

The shock of the President's Day weekend of 2001, however, was none other than Down to Earth, a Chris Rock comedy loosely based upon Heaven Can Wait. The below radar production was virtually ignored until opening day but ended up shocking most observers with the second largest opening weekend of February 2001. It made $17.30 million for Friday-Sunday and $20.03 million for the four-day holiday on its way to a staggering $64.17 million domestic. Relative to its budget of $30 million, Down to Earth was a blockbuster that established Rock as a major factor in Hollywood. He cleverly leveraged this newfound success to get big paydays in the upcoming releases Bad Company and Head of State. Down to Earth was very good to all involved.

February ended with a whimper rather than a bang as two financial disasters imploded in theaters across the country. The more dramatic failure was Monkeybone, a mix of live action and animation that came with a hefty budget of $75 million. It starred the white hot Brendan Fraser, who was poised to explode into box office three months later with The Mummy Returns. Unfortunately, no one was willing to suffer through this garbage in order to see him so opening weekend saw Monkeybone make a dismal $2.69 million. Amazingly, the movie's situation declined from there as it made only $2.64 million more during the rest of its short domestic run. Monkeybone's final box office total of $5.33 million and its poor video rental performance of $10.20 million indicate a $60 million loss for Fox. 80% of the studio's money was thrown away on this disaster.

The other release was 3000 Miles to Graceland, a film about glorified violence and Elvis impersonators. Similar in design to the concept of Ocean's 11, Graceland saw a bunch of men dressed like The King attempt to perform an armed robbery of a Las Vegas casino. The big sign that the project might struggle was that the two central leads were played by Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner. Neither of them has had a bona fide hit in quite some time (except for arguably Message in a Bottle for Costner) and this film concept was a bit too easy for the average movie goer to ignore. 3000 Miles to Graceland opened to a disappointing $7.16 million and died a quick, brutal death from there with domestic receipts of only $15.74 million. Relative to its budget of $62 million, Graceland is not the complete wipeout that Monkeybone is, especially when we consider its $21.5 million in video rental receipts. Still, Warner Bros. lost almost half of their financial investment in this project and are unlikely to cast either actor to frontline a film in the near future.

With regards to overall box office, the Hannibal effect is easy to see. Weekends in February 2001 made over $60 million more than the same weekends in February 2000. Business was up over 16% and this trend would continue throughout 2001. The key to all of the record setting events you will read in the next ten installments of this series, though, is without question Hannibal. That's the film that clearly identified a change in the landscape and pointed a bright light toward the upcoming releases of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings nine months down the road.

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