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WEEKEND BOXOFFICE REPORT: 'Hardball' Is No. 1 Soft Touch in Tough Times

17 Sep, 2001 By: Staff Reporter

On the first weekend following Tuesday's terroristattacks in New York and Washington, moviegoers turned out in relatively normal numbers, given that mid-September often marks a lull at the box office.

Paramount's Hardball, a PG-13 rated family film about an inner-city Little League team, directed byBrian Robbins and starring Keanu Reeves, took the top spot with an estimated $10.1 million. Sony's The Glass House, a thriller starring Leelee Sobieski that opened in 546 fewer theaters than Hardball, debuted in second place with an estimated $6.1 million.

Overall business was down Friday, probably because of observance of the national day of prayer and remembrance called for by President Bush, but rebounded Saturday -- with Sunday expected to follow suit.

Whether moviegoers were seeking to return to normalcy or just trying to escape the horrifying images permeating television, the estimate for the top 12 movies jumped nearly 43% from the comparableframe a year ago -- which was the lowest-grossing weekend of 2000. This weekend's top 12 took in an estimated $54.1 million, down 12% from the $61.5 million earned by the previous weekend's top 12.

In Los Angeles, the few moviegoers who made the trek to the multiplex echoed the same motivation: They were seeking a break from an emotionally draining week. While such moviegoers might have prevented a dramatic decline at the box office, exhibitors remain unsure of how the crisis will affect the industry.

"It hasn't been that drastic yet, but there has definitely been an impact," Cinemark USA v.p. marketing Terrell Falk said. "It remains to be seen how it will all play out -- will people get interested in movies again as things go back to normal?"

The short-term effect on the box office does not seem to have exhibitors overly concerned -- this istraditionally a slow time of year for the business -- but Falk wondered if there could be long-term effects. "You have a lot of trailers for the big holiday movies which audiences would normally start to see around this time of year, and if they're not seeing them, that could have an impact down the road," he said.

Heartened by the opening of Hardball, Paramount Motion Picture Group vice chairman Rob Friedman said: "It's a good family film -- very inspirational and emotional. It's a very appropriate movie right now." Friedman noted that the film's weekend gross was off slightly from the projected $13 million-$15 million that Hardball was tracking before Tuesday's attacks.

But Friedman was optimistic about the film's prospects. "Based on the superb exits and in light of the very limited competitive environment, I think we will have a great weekend next weekend," he said. Of the coming weekend's scheduled three wide releases, two -- Buena Vista's Big Trouble and Warner Bros.' Training Day -- have been postponed. Only Fox's Glitter remains on the schedule.

Hardball played 55%-58% female, and 55% of the audience was over the age of 25. It was a big draw Saturday for families, who comprised 50% of the matinee audience.

Glass, which carried an estimated cost of $22 million, performed at the level Sony anticipated. "It'snot an expensive picture," Columbia Pictures president of worldwide marketing and distribution Jeff Blake said. "It was targeted primarily at young females, with a moderate amount of prints and advertising, so we should come out fine."

The previous weekend's box office champ, Universal's The Musketeer, moved into the third spot with an estimated $5.3 million, down a harsh 49% from its debut. The action-adventure film has collected an estimated $17.6 million after 10 days.

Dimension's The Others moved up a notch to the fourth spot with an estimated $4.8 million, followed by Screen Gems' Two Can Play That Game with an estimated $4.7 million, down 39% from its debut.

The films that did best during the weekend were primarily comedies.

New Line's Rush Hour 2, which declined by a relatively modest 24% despite losing 280 venues, captured the sixth slot with an estimated $4.35 million, moving its total to about $211.4 million.

Paramount's Rat Race was off a scant 19% as its theater count dropped by 56. The comedy placed eighth with an estimated $3.63 million, moving its cume to about $47.8 million.

Universal's American Pie 2 took the biggest slice in theater counts among the top comedies with 438 fewer locations but preserved a more-than-respectable 24% drop from the previous weekend. Pie 2 grossed an estimated $3.6 million to take the ninth slot, raising its total to about $135.9 million. Buena Vista's The Princess Diaries earned an estimated $2.6 million, down a mild 23% with 255 fewersites. The Garry Marshall-helmed comedy crossed the $100 million mark Sunday, becoming the 13th release this year to do so.

The lone exception to the comedy rule was Others. The horror film starring Nicole Kidman dropped a modest 20% from the previous weekend, but unlike the top comedies, which all lost theaters, Others added 108 venues. Its cume stands at about $73.6 million.

Among debuts in the limited-release arena, Sony Pictures Classics' Haiku Tunnel opened in seven locations and grossed an estimated $39,341. The comedy averaged a solid $5,620 per theater and hastaken in about $40,766 since its release in one theater in San Francisco on Thursday.

The sophomore frame of Paramount Classics' Our Lady of the Assassins added eight locations, bringing its count to 12, and tallied an estimated $54,000. The Barbet Schroeder-directed feature averaged $4,500 per theater and has collected about $126,000 to date.

The second weekend of Soul Survivors was similar to the first, grossing an estimated $550,000 from 604 theaters for a dismal per-theater average of $910. The cume stands at about $2 million.

National box office during the week ending Sept. 13 rose 18% from last year's comparable seven-day period ($95 million vs. $80.4 million). The year-to-date total is holding steady with a 10% advantage on the comparable 2000 figure ($5.86 billion vs. $5.32 billion), while admissions are keeping pace with a 5% gain on last year's figure.

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