The Fourth of July holiday, which for many spanned from Wednesday to Sunday, didn't provide the same kind of explosive competitive match as last year when "The Perfect Storm," starring George Clooney, duked it out with "The Patriot," starring Mel Gibson.
This year most of the studios avoided the Fourth because of "Scary Movie 2," but the sequel was edged out by a kids' movie, "Cats & Dogs," which clawed its way ahead into first place with an estimated $21.7 million over the weekend and $35.7 million in its first five days. Not only was "Cats & Dogs" on fewer screens (3,040) than "Scary 2" (3,220), but many of its admissions were at cut-rate children's prices.
The film's director, Larry Guterman, explains the film's appeal as "fundamentally being such a strong idea. And people seemed to enjoy its execution." In visiting theaters he found a mix of teenagers and older patrons among the parents and children, which could have given the movie that something extra to lift it to the top.
"Scary Movie 2"--directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and starring his brothers, Marlon and Shawn--proved not to have the same drawing power as its predecessor, taking in $21 million over the weekend and $34.5 million in its first five days, drawing mainly on an African American audience, mostly aged 18-24. By comparison, the first movie grossed $42.3 million in its first three days. The second film may have been hurt by stricter enforcement of the R-rating at some multiplexes, and perhaps the audience's sense of deja vu.
Since neither of the top two new arrivals opened at an especially high level, receipts were down overall from last year for the second weekend in a row, with the top 12 films grossing an estimated $122 million--more than 10% off the comparable weekend last year, according to Exhibitor Relations. Though if the estimates hold up, six films will end up grossing $10 million or more.
At the official midway point in summer, however, revenue is still about 10% ahead of last year, but last June was a rather downtrodden month, so in order to surpass the 1999 summer record, the second half of the season will have to perform up to expectations and provide at least one or two surprise hits.
Based on its Friday night preview, which was at 75% capacity, the Reese Witherspoon comedy "Legally Blonde" could be a sleeper candidate. Satisfaction level, according to MGM, was very high, about 90%.
The Jet Li action film "Kiss of the Dragon" sat out the Fourth and jumped into the fray on Friday, landing in fourth place with an estimate of $13.6 million and playing to the popular Asian star's loyal fan base.
The second-weekend decline rate for many of the season's higher profile titles continues to be staggering. This weekend it was "A.I." that fell more than 50% from its debut, to an estimated $14.1 million. That brings the Steven Spielberg sci-fi Pinocchio to just under $60 million in its first 10 days, which is more than middling, though it looks to be one of the director's lowest grossing films in some time. However, the film has caught fire in Japan, breaking many records. Other overseas dates follow in the fall and, like Disney, Spielberg is a reliable brand name around the world.
The summer's surprise hit so far, "The Fast and the Furious," topped the $100-million mark in its third weekend, holding fast even with the Jet Li film as competition. With a 38% decline from last weekend, it grossed an estimated $12.4 million.
"Dr. Dolittle 2" has also found its stride and taken in $71.5 million or so in its first three weeks, with an estimated $10.1 million over the past weekend. After one month in theaters, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" is down to a respectable $6.8 million estimate and a strong four-week total of $115 million, which looks likely to warrant a sequel.
But the champion of the summer (and the year) so far is "Shrek," down only 22% in its eighth weekend to an even $6 million and an imposing $240 million to date.
In ninth place is "Atlantis," with $5 million expected in its fifth weekend and almost $70 million so far. In the Disney animation family, "Atlantis" appears to be the weakest link.
Rounding out the top 10 is "Baby Boy," which added $4.8 million or thereabouts in its second weekend (down 44%) for a good 10-day total of $20.8 million.
The specialized films playing in theaters are attracting adults craving more substantial subject matter. "Sexy Beast" broadened again to 134 theaters and collected $714,000, bringing its monthlong total to more than $3 million. And "The Anniversary Party" also held steadily with $400,000 expected on 106 screens and $2.5 million so far.
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The canines and felines of "Cats & Dogs" may face off in epic battle, but they teamed up over the weekend to edge out "Scary Movie 2."
Estimated weekend grosses (in millions):
1. "Cats & Dogs": $21.7
2. "Scary Movie 2": $21
3. "A.I.": $14.1
4. "Kiss of the Dragon": $13.6
5. "The Fast and the Furious": $12.4