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WEEKEND BOXOFFICE REPORT: 'Jeepers Creepers' Scares Up MGM's Fourth No. 1 Opening of the Year

4 Sep, 2001 By: Staff Reporter

Labor Day weekend traditionally has been a scaryone for the domestic box office, but this year a horror film slayed that stereotype with a record-setting bow.

MGM's Jeepers Creepers earned an estimated $15.8 million during the four-day frame to become the highest-opening Labor Day weekend film ever and take the holiday's box office crown. New Line's Rush Hour 2 held on to the second spot with an estimated $11.8 million, and the top film of the previous three weekends, Universal's American Pie 2, dropped to third place with an estimated $11.7 million.

Rounding out the top five were Dimension's thriller The Others, which stayed strong with anestimated $10 million, and the Paramount comedy Rat Race, which took in an estimated $9.2 million.

The weekend's only other new wide release, Lions Gate's O, also enjoyed a respectable opening, taking in an estimated $6.9 million during the four-day span and grabbing seventh place.

But the story of the weekend clearly was Jeepers, which gave MGM its fourth No. 1 opening of the year following Hannibal, Heartbreakers and Legally Blonde. Produced by American Zoetrope as part of its deal with MGM's United Artists specialty division, Jeepers tells the fright-filled story of two teenagers whose road trip becomes a race for their lives.

The film scared up impressive crowds during its debut weekend, averaging more than $5,000 on each of its 2,944 screens en route to dethroning the previous Labor Day opening-weekend champ, 1996's The Crow: City of Angels. Although it proved the largest Labor Day opener, Jeepers fell short of becoming the top-earning Labor Day film, a distinction held by 1999's The Sixth Sense, whichearned $29 million during its fifth frame.

Exhibitor Relations Co. president Paul Dergarabedian credited MGM and the popularity of the horrorgenre for Jeepers' unprecedented opening success. "MGM did a good job of getting the publicity and marketing going for this film," he said. "This really proves that audiences are always looking for a good scare and that there is still demand for the horror genre."

The impressive opening also validates MGM's decision to release Jeepers on a weekend not known for its box office success.

"There was a lot of discussion going into this weekend about Labor Day being a low weekend," MGM president of worldwide marketing and distribution Bob Levin said. "But I think this just proves once again that any weekend can be a good weekend with the right movie."

Although Levin said Jeepers drew an audience split evenly across demographic groups, he credited horror fans for much of the film's opening success.

"You've had a lot of thrillers dressed up as horror films in the past few years, but it's been a while since fans of the genre had a chance to see a good, old-fashioned horror movie," Levin said. "I think thisopening weekend really shows the strength of this genre, as well as the fact that we were able to cross it over to a broader audience."

Finding a balanced audience also was key to the performance of O. The modern version of Shakespeare's Othello marked the beginning of an era for Lions Gate as the distributor opened the film on 1,434 screens, its widest opening ever. The move generated a solid if not spectacular opening, attracting a diverse audience thanks in part to mostly positive reviews.

"We are very happy with how the film opened," Lions Gate Films Releasing president Tom Ortenberg said. "This film is going to be quite profitable and is going to be very good for our company."

Ortenberg said he has no doubts that Labor Day weekend was the right time to release O, which had been delayed several times after its original distributor, Dimension, postponed its release in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.

The film's controversial past, combined with competition from fellow R-rated teen film Jeepers, might have hurt O's cause.

"Taking into account O's widely publicized rough road to the box office, I think this has to beconsidered a decent opening for Lions Gate," Dergarabedian said. "But I also think that O andJeepers were chasing the same audience, and Jeepers clearly won out."

Still, O managed to find its niche.

"This film offered movie fans a chance to end the summer on an intelligent note," Ortenberg said. "Itschallenging subject matter had appeal to adults, and the young stars appealed to younger audiences."

Highlights among the weekend's returning films included Rush 2's $4,177 per-screen average, which helped the Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan buddy pic push its cumulative gross to an estimated $199 million. Pie 2 also continued its successful run, bringing its estimated cume to more than $125 million.

When it comes to staying power, though, Others took the crown as its box office take barely dropped during its fourth weekend of release, thanks to good word-of-mouth for the Nicole Kidmanthriller.

Rounding out the top 10 were Buena Vista's The Princess Diaries, which earned an estimated $7.6 million and landed in sixth place; Dimension's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which took in an estimated $6.4 million during its second weekend and grabbed eighth place; Warner Bros.' SummerCatch, which earned an estimated $5 million and ninth place; and Universal's Captain Corelli'sMandolin, which took in an estimated $4.1 million in the 10th slot.

The top 12 films will set a Golden Dozen box office record for Labor Day weekend, including an impressive 24% jump from last year's comparable frame. Although the final numbers will not be in until Monday, the overall box office gross seems likely to set a new record as well, Dergarabedian said.

"It's a fitting end to what has been a record-breaking summer," he said.

In the limited-release arena, Fox Searchlight's The Deep End added an estimated $1.7 million during its fourth weekend to bring its estimated cume to $4.6 million. The Samuel Goldwyn-produced, IDP-distributed Tortilla Soup took in an estimated $925,109 from 220 screens during its secondframe in release, and the Fireworks-produced, IDP-distributed Innocence earned an estimated $61,174 as it expanded to six screens in New York and Los Angeles.

The long-running success of another pair of indie films continued as Artisan's Made earned an estimated $330,000, bringing its estimated cume to $4.6 million, and Fine Line's Hedwig and the Angry Inch added 101 screens and brought its estimated cume to $2.3 million with a weekend take of $300,000.

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