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2001: A Box Office Review

Part Six: June

By David Parker

Richard B. Riddick. Escaped convict. Murderer.

Surprise and disappointment are the words that are most often associated with June box-office performance. If you asked Joe Average on the street when the biggest openers come out, he'd probably say June. This sounds right; some of the biggest movies of all time opened in June: ET, Jurassic Park, The Lion King, Jaws, and Batman. Ghostbusters is close at number 24. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is a bit behind Ghostbusters at number 35. Batman Forever is even lower, at number 47.

Maybe Joe Average is thinking of the top openers of all time, but none of the top ten all-time openers premiered in June. The closest would be Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me at number 13, with $54.47 million. The truth is that June is usually a month where films open moderately big, and where the gigantic May films stretch out their legs. From the late '70s to the early '90s, June was the biggest month of the year for movies, but now that's not the case. June has been the month where we see the new Batman film, the big Disney animated picture, and one or two $40 million openings. In fact, nine out of the 19 $40-50 million openings occurred during the month of June. June 2002 may buck that trend with the release of Scooby Doo and the highly-anticipated Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg collaboration, Minority Report.

Despite all the heightened expectations, June 2001 performed up to demand. There was supposed to be an Oscar-caliber film that would wow audiences, and there was. There should have been a sequel that would fall just short of the original's gross, and there was. There should have been two films to gross over $40 million on their opening weekends, and again there were. All the expected things happened: surprise hits, bombs, crowd pleasers and crowd puzzlers...but they didn't happen to the right films.

June 1st - June 3rd weekend

It would seem that a weekend that saw no film open over $20 million would be dismissed by Hollywood studios; however, June 1st marked the return of the musical. Moulin Rouge opened to $13.7 million on 2,279 screens, after posting unheard of per-screen averages in limited release the two weekends prior. This was the first successful musical since Grease in 1978, and the biggest opener for a musical since the re-release of Grease in 1998. It was a stunning debut, considering the un-crowd-friendly premise: young love-struck writer falls for a prostitute in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris. Add in production and release delays, a perplexing visual style, and limited star-power, and this film was sure to be one of the biggest bombs of the year. On the contrary; viewers loved the anachronistic songs, rich visuals, and over-the-top performances. In fact, Moulin Rouge was nominated for Best Picture this year, has made over $57 million and is still playing in theatres. It was the second-biggest surprise of the month.

The biggest opener that weekend in terms of box office was The Animal. The Rob Schneider epic organ-swapping comedy opened to $19.72 million. For some reason, The Animal did not strike the Adam Sandler chord with America, and tumbled in successive weeks to only make $55.76 million total. It was a hit by any measure, but it didn't run as well as Rob Schneider did in the trailer. By far the biggest bomb that weekend was What's the Worst That Could Happen? MGM seems to answer that question with every successive egg they lay. What's the Worst That Could Happen? appeared to have a decent chance at doing well that summer. The premise was good: After robbing Danny DeVito, Martin Lawrence loses his lucky ring to DeVito and has his life ruined afterward. Even with the star power of DeVito and Lawrence, WtWTCH only opened to $13.05 million, and eventually made just $32.1 million. A major dud.

Shrek and Pearl Harbor continued to dominate that weekend, with both taking in over $28 million. Interestingly enough, at the same time a little film opened to $100,000 and a $2,715 per screen average. This would not be very noteworthy, except for the fact that the film's name is Brotherhood of the Wolf.

June 8th - June 10th weekend

Only two films opened in wide release the weekend of June 8, 2001: Swordfish and Evolution. DreamWorks must have assumed that if they got Ivan Reitman, they could make another Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, they forgot to bring the funny. Evolution bombed. It made only $13.41 million that weekend in 2,611 venues. It made just $38.41 million total, and took a bit of the Shrek smile off of DreamWorks' face. Halle Berry's Breasts - also called Swordfish - opened to $18.14 million to take number one that weekend. The John Travolta film was predicted to be the bomb of the weekend, but instead became a mild hit, eventually earning $69.78 million.

Atlantis opened on two screens to an enormous but expected $329,011, or a per-screen average of $164,506. It's not really noteworthy, however, because Disney opens their big summer animated releases the same way every year, with inflated ticket prices to make the per-screen average (PSA) look intimidating. The Anniversary Party opened on 11 screens to a PSA of $14,452 and $158,533 for the weekend. It went on to make $4.01 million total.

June 15th - June 17th weekend

The weekend of June 15th was yet another weekend in which two films switched roles. Atlantis should have been the big opener of the weekend, but instead Tomb Raider was. The Angelina Jolie action film became the first film based on a video game to make over $40 million on opening weekend. Taking in $47.74 million in 3,308 theatres, it easily shattered Mortal Kombat's record. It was a short-lived celebration for Paramount, as Tomb Raider tumbled every week and only made $131.44 million total. It was a hit for sure, but not the franchise film that Paramount must have been hoping it would be.

Atlantis expanded to 3,011 theatres that weekend and made $20.34 million. It was the smallest opening ever for a Disney summer animated picture. Unfortunately, the film didn't have good legs, either. It ended up making just $84.04 million total. Even with lowered expectations, Disney was clearly hoping for more.

Sexy Beast was the indie hit of the week, earning $170,356 in just nine theatres. It eventually made $6.95 million and earned Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination.

June 22nd - June 24th weekend

Once again two films opened, and once again they flip-flopped what they should have earned. After Dr. Dolittle earned $141 million at the box office, a sequel was assured. Since sequels generally open to more than their predecessors, it was assumed Dr. Dolittle 2 would open to much more than the $29.1 million that the original took in. A $40 million weekend was in the bag. It was...just not for Dr. Dolittle. When The Fast and the Furious made $15.2 million that Friday, jaws dropped. The Vin Diesel film was expected to earn that much for its entire first weekend. Dr. Dolittle only made $8.52 million that same day. I did a quadruple-take when I saw the numbers on my monitor. It had to be a mistake. Someone must have switched the numbers. But it was no mistake, and the street-racing remake of Point Break became the surprise hit of the summer. It made $40.09 million that weekend and totaled $144.51 million. TFaTF already has a sequel in the works, and the film turned Diesel into a huge star.

Dr. Dolittle earned $25.04 million that weekend, and totaled a respectable $112.9 million. It ended up making more than most people expected, it just didn't have a mammoth start.

June 29th - July 1st weekend

So, forget everything that happened earlier in the month; this was supposed to be the big weekend. AI: Artificial Intelligence, Steven Spielberg's vision of Stanley Kubrick's last story, was finally opening. Although the buzz was already middling at best, forecasters were expecting big things from the Spielberg film. After all, it had Haley Joel Osment in an Oscar-caliber role, and the same goes for Jude Law. What could go wrong? Everything. The film was too dark and Kubrickian for everyday viewers, and too sugar-coated, smarmy and Spielberg-esque for Kubrick fans. Despite an ingenious Web site, the movie perplexed viewers from the start. Spielberg's name alone carried AI to a $29.35 million opening. From there, the bleeding didn't stop, as AI dropped like a rock each week. It mercifully ended its run making $78.56 million total. It's a shame, since I feel AI is one of the best films of 2001.

Three other films opened that weekend as well: Crazy/Beautiful, Baby Boy, and Pootie Tang. First, Pootie Tang opened and no one cared. Making just $1.51 million that weekend, the no-name African-American comedy made just $3.29 million total. Baby Boy opened to $8.61 million. Although it is a financial success at $28.74 million, some had to be disappointed that John Singleton's first film back in the 'hood didn't make more money. The same could be said for Crazy/Beautiful. It was Kirsten Dunst's first film after the surprise success of Bring it On, and most people expected a bigger opening than $4.72 million and $16.89 million total. Except for Baby Boy, they were all dead-on-arrival that weekend.

After all that let-down, does it surprise you that box office was up 14% in June from the year before? My guess is that the same thing will happen this year. Loads of films will let down studios, and yet the overall box office will be up 20% from 2001. The box office never fails to disappoint.

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