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<I>Soldiers</I> Storms the Weekend Box Office

4 Mar, 2002 By: Brian Fuson

Paramount's We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson, debuted in the top position at the box office this weekend as the Vietnam era war film landed with an estimated $20.2 million. The Icon-produced drama, based on a true story from the book by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, was written and directed by Randall Wallace.

Another newcomer this weekend, Miramax's 40 Days and 40 Nights took the second spot. The romantic comedy from Working Title, starring Josh Hartnett, opened to a solid $12.5 million from 2,225 theaters.

The weekend's two new wide releases, along with a mostly solid cast of supporting holdovers, helped vault the total for the top 12 films to an 8 percent increase on the comparable weekend a year ago.

A film that did not provide much help in the holdover department was last weekend's box office champ, Warner Bros.' Queen of the Damned. The horror film, based on the book by Anne Rice and starring the late Aaliyah, moved into the sixth spot and took in an anemic $5.8 million on its sophomore weekend, dropping a frightful 81 percent from its debut, moving its cume after 10 days to $23.8 million.

In stark contrast to Queen, New Line's John Q. slipped but one notch as it took the third spot with an estimated $8.4 million, off a relatively mild 33 percent in its telling third weekend. The Denzel Washington starrer has billed an estimated $51.1 million in 17 days.

Positive word of mouth helped sustain Universal's Dragonfly in its second weekend as the Kevin Costner starrer dropped into the fourth spot with an estimated $6.8 million, down a moderate 33 percent from its debut. The drama has collected an estimated $19.4 million to date.

Buena Vista's Return to Never Land, the animated sequel to the classic Peter Pan, alighted in the fifth slot during its third weekend in release, taking in an estimated $6.5 million — down a slim 28 percent from a week ago. The G-rated family film has generated an estimated $35.3 million after 17 days.

The Oscar contenders for best picture added a positive element to the mix as they continued to bring in audiences and experience low drops from the previous weekend.

Universal's A Beautiful Mind lost 107 theaters but was off a scant 17 percent from a week ago, grossing an estimated $4.4 million and taking the eighth slot. The Russell Crowe starrer has amassed an estimated $138.7 million.

New Line's epic Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring had the best hold of all the Oscar contenders, which is all the more impressive considering it's a three hour film and it lost the most theaters — 207 fewer than last weekend. The fantasy adventure was in the 10th slot with an estimated $3.1 million — down a negligible 10 percent from a week ago. The Peter Jackson-helmed film has polished an estimated $287.4 million to date.

USA Films' Gosford Park took in an estimated $1.8 million, down a slim 10 percent but with 94 more locations than a week ago, moving its cume to $30.9 million. Miramax's In the Bedroom grossed an estimated $1.7 million and was down 24 percent, bringing its total to around $28 million.

Paramount was understandably pleased with the performance of We Were Soldiers this weekend. "This is a strong opening," said Wayne Lewellen, president of distribution for Paramount Pictures. "Especially given the fact that there have been a number of war films open recently," referring to MGM's Hart's War, Sony's Black Hawk Down, and 20th Century Fox's Behind Enemy Lines.

Lewellen noted that the film generated high scores in exit polls, with 91 percent ranking the film in the top two boxes, and a high ratio of female moviegoers with 44 percent to 56 percent males, which is high for a war movie. The female contingent for war films is usually below 40 percent. Lewellen credited the strong female showing mostly to Gibson, but also to the film's emotional appeal and back-story, which includes the wives and families of the soldiers.

Lewellen anticipated strong prospects for the film moving forward, adding, "The exit polls were extraordinary — anytime you have word of mouth this strong on a picture, it bodes well for the future of the film." The box office for the R-rated Soldiers, in which 73 percent of the audience were over 25 years of age, took a solid 43 percent leap from Friday to Saturday.

In the world of limited releases, USA Films' Monsoon Wedding added nine locations, bringing the count to 11, and took home an estimated $203,312. Directed by Indian filmmaker Mira Nair, the drama averaged a stellar $18,483 per theater and has grossed approximately $300,271 to date.

Palm's Scratch added three venues, upping the tally to five, and took home an estimated $31,777. The hip-hop documentary from director Doug Pray averaged a promising $6,355 per theater, advancing its total to around $64,291.

Other films that landed in the top 10 this weekend included Universal's Big Fat Liar, which placed seventh with an estimated $4.8 million, raising the cume for the comedy to roughly $38.8 million. Paramount's Crossroads was ninth with a take of an estimated $4 million, down a disappointing 42 percent in its third frame. The Britney Spears starrer has picked up an estimated $31.2 million so far.

The estimated total for this weekend's top 12 films was $81.1 million. The top films last year during the comparable frame were DreamWorks' The Mexican with $20.1 million, and MGM's Hannibal with $10.1 million. The Hollywood Reporter forecasts the total for all films this weekend to be in the high $90 million-to-low $100 million range, up from last year's $89.1 million.

The national box office for the week ending Feb. 28 was up nearly 20 percent from the comparable seven day period last year ($141.2 million vs. $118.2 million). The solid performances at the box office during the past few weeks have helped lift the year-to-date cume to a slight 2 percent lead over last year at this time ($1.27 billion vs. $1.24 billion). But the small increase at the box office is due to slightly higher ticket prices, as estimated ticket units for the year-to-date are behind last year's record pace by nearly 2 percent.

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