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WEEKEND BOXOFFICE REPORT: No. 1 Is Not-So-Straight 'From Hell'; 'Riding in Cars' Drives to No. 2

22 Oct, 2001 By: Staff Reporter

Three new wide releases helped raise the North American box office slightly from last year's comparable weekend, marking a fourth consecutive up session. But the freshman performances proved somewhat disappointing, for the most part hovering near the $10 million mark.

Fox's From Hell was the weekend's top-grossing film. The Johnny Depp starrer, helmed by Albert and Allen Hughes, slashed its way to an estimated $11.3 million during its debut frame.

Sony's Riding in Cars With Boys, which stars Drew Barrymore and was directed by Penny Marshall, opened in the second spot with an estimated $10.8 million.

DreamWorks' The Last Castle turned in the most disappointing debut among the new wide arrivals as it grossed an estimated $7.1 million to place fifth. The Robert Redford starrer saw a significant reworking of its marketing campaign following the events of Sept. 11 but still failed to crack the $10 million mark. The prison-set drama directed by Rod Lurie cost about $55 million to produce.

Of the weekend's holdovers, Warner Bros.' Training Day saw the smallest drop from the previous frame as the Denzel Washington starrer placed third with an estimated $9.5 million and slipped a slim 29% during its third weekend. Training Day, the No. 1 film in the marketplace the previous two weekends, has collected an estimated $57.5 million to date.

MGM's Bandits took the fourth slot during its sophomore weekend, earning an estimated $8.4 million and slipping 35%. While the drop was moderate, the comedy has not recovered from its lower-than-anticipated debut, which MGM said was hindered by the recent anthrax scare and its repercussions. The Bruce Willis-Billy Bob Thornton starrer, which carried a reported $80 million price tag, has grossed about $25 million after its first 10 days in release.

Executives at Fox were pleased with the debut of From Hell, which had a negative cost of about $30 million. "I'm a little surprised," Fox president of domestic distribution Bruce Snyder said. "Heading into the weekend, I thought we would be in second place."

Snyder noted that the thriller, based on Alan Moore's novel about Jack the Ripper, pulled more strongly than expected from several demographic quadrants. Most notable were the gender profile, which split fairly evenly but was expected to be more male, and age breakdown, which also split fairly evenly after the studio expected a smaller percentage of the over-25 crowd. "And with Halloween coming next weekend, I think we're in a good position in the marketplace," Snyder said.

Riding played primarily to females over and under 25 years of age, Columbia Pictures president of worldwide marketing and distribution Jeff Blake said. "Our strength is with the female audience, and hopefully with their support, this will be a movie that will hold well," he said. The coming-of-age drama cost about $47 million to produce. "I think it's a good opening considering the marketplace, but we'd always have liked more," Blake said.

Regarding the weak debut for Last Castle, DreamWorks executives understandably were discouraged but hope that strong exit polls and definite-recommend scores will translate into positive word-of-mouth and help keep the film in the marketplace.

"We're disappointed in the opening," said DreamWorks head of distribution Jim Tharp, who noted that the distributor expected the film to open better. "(But) based on the exit information, we think the film will be around for a while." Last Castle played to an older audience, with 70% over 25, and played slightly more male than female by a 53%-47% margin.

In the limited-release arena, several films enjoyed promising starts, led by Fox Searchlight's The Waking Life, a live-action CG-animated film from director Richard Linklater that debuted with an estimated $88,000 from four locations. Waking Life averaged a robust $22,000 per theater and has taken in an estimated $94,150 since its Wednesday opening. "We're ecstatic, especially considering that this is not a traditional independent film," said Fox Searchlight president of distribution Steve Gilula, who noted that Waking Life was shot in digital video then painted with computer animation in Austin, Texas. The film expands to 14 cities Friday for a total of about 27 theaters.

Paramount Classics' Focus starring William H. Macy and Laura Dern opened in two locations and grossed an estimated $26,000 for a solid per-theater average of $13,000. The drama, based on an Arthur Miller novel, expands Nov. 2 to the top 10 cities.

Universal Focus' Mulholland Drive added 181 venues during the weekend, bringing its count to 247, and grossed an estimated $1 million for a per-theater average of $4,049. The cume for the David Lynch-helmed drama is about $1.9 million.

ThinkFilm's Last Wedding played in eight locations, five more than a week earlier, and took in an estimated $47,000 for a solid per-theater average of $5,875, upping its total to about $84,000.

The estimate for the weekend's top 12 films is $74.5 million, up 5% from the comparable frame a year ago. The top films then were Universal's Meet the Parents with $16 million and Fox's Bedazzled with $13.1 million. The Hollywood Reporter projects the total for all films this weekend in the low- to mid-$80 million range, up slightly from last year's $80.9 million.

National box office during the week ending Oct. 18 gained a slim 3% on the comparable seven-day period in 2000 ($115.3 million vs. $111.5 million), while the year-to-date cume maintains a 10% advantage on the year-earlier pace ($6.37 billion vs. $5.79 billion). The estimated year-to-date admission tally shows a 5% improvement on the 2000 pace.

Other films in the weekend's top 10 include Miramax's Serendipity, which grossed an estimated $5.8 million and took the sixth spot, advancing its total to about $34.8 million. Buena Vista's Corky Romano dropped 41% during its second frame but took home an estimated $5.3 million, upping its total to about $16.1 million, followed by Fox's Don't Say a Word with an estimated $4.4 million, bringing its estimated cume to $48.1 million.

Paramount's Zoolander was ninth with an estimated take of $3.3 million, raising its total to an estimated $40.2 million, and Miramax's Iron Monkey took the 10th slot with an estimated $3.2 million, moving its cume to about $10.8 million.

--Brian Fuson

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