Time Right for ‘Species’ to Emerge : Box office: Horror film brings in an estimated $17.1 million, making it MGM’s best debut. But ‘Apollo 13’ remains at the top of the heap.


Even though it had to settle for second place and didn’t have stars such as Sean Connery and Richard Gere as insurance, MGM’s “Species,” was the right horror film at the right time. Its estimated $17.1-million debut over the weekend was MGM’s top opener ever and the best news the ailing studio has had since the sleeper “Stargate” last October.

The weekend’s other major debut, the $50-million “First Knight,” couldn’t count on the youth market and had to settle for third or fourth place, with a good but not great estimate of $11.1 million. Heavily dependent on older female ticket-buyers, opening after two well-performing period adventures, “Rob Roy” and “Braveheart,” the long-term prospects for “First Knight” are unclear, though Columbia/Tri-Star distribution chief Jeff Blake said exit polls were promising.

Neither newcomer could dislodge first-place “Apollo 13,” which probably grossed somewhere between $19.2 million and $19.5 million, a great hold against its $25.7-million debut. With $65.3 million in 10 days, a $150 million or more finale is assured, industry insiders say.

For MGM, the studio that lost its major summer film “Cutthroat Island” due to post-production delays, the $33-million “Species” gives it some visibility during a competitive season. Studio distribution president Larry Gleason said he isn’t too worried about the film taking a big drop next weekend, the way most horror films do, because “it’s playing more like a science fiction movie and we’re getting people up to 35 years old and some women as well.”

A good indication, Gleason says, is that the film went up from Friday to Saturday, which horror films rarely do. With the nation’s under-21 population available all week long and no other sci-fi/horror items due, Gleason sees this one having a shot at the $70-million or so grossed by “Stargate.” How it stands up against “Under Seige II” next weekend will tell the story.


Considering that it was a post-holiday weekend, business held extremely well, probably beating last year’s totals of $92 million (counting only movies grossing over $500,000), according to John Krier of Exhibitor Relations, the box-office tracking firm. And even if there’s no “Forrest Gump” or even a “True Lies” on the horizon, the next three or four weekends are nonetheless expected to be $100-million grossers, say industry insiders. That should keep this summer ahead of last year’s record.

“Pocahontas” is neck and neck with “First Knight,” with Disney estimating $11 million (others have it somewhat higher) on 2,608 screens. That brings the animated film to $92 million so far. It’ll pass $100 million by next weekend. “Batman Forever” is right behind with $9 million on 2,893 screens and a cool $155 million to date. It will top “Batman Returns” in the coming week.

On the downside, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie,” is already in serious decline after only two weeks, dropping 56% to $6 million. The best that can be said is that with $25.5 million so far, it’s not a total loss for this $40-million movie. Ironically, Hugh Grant helped minimize the damage. He drew in the curious to previews of “Nine Months,” which were 80% to 90% full in 1,000 theaters that also were showing “Power Rangers,” according to Tom Sherak, 20th Century Fox executive vice president. That augurs well for the comedy’s Wednesday opening.

The other major summer disappointment is “Judge Dredd,” which fell more than 60% to $5.1 million on 2,204 screens and has grossed only $24 million to date.

In eighth place was “Bridges of Madison County,” which just reached $60 million, with $2.9 million over the weekend. Paramount’s adventure flick, “Congo,” with $2.8 million and $73.2 million to date, was in ninth. Three films duking it out for 10th place were “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” with an estimated $2 million for the weekend and almost $93 million to date, “Casper,” estimating $1.8 million and a $85.3-million total, and one of the earlier medieval releases, “Braveheart,” with $1.7 million and a $55.1-million total so far.