Times Staff Writer

A record-setting second weekend from “Shrek 2” and surprisingly high box-office revenues from “The Day After Tomorrow” fueled the biggest Memorial Day weekend ever. The animated feature from DreamWorks took in an estimated $92.2 million during the four-day holiday. That represents a decline of only 14% from last weekend’s $108-million total and 33% for the comparable three-day stretch.

“ ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ with a four-day take of $86 million, is the biggest No. 2 picture ever, beating out the original ‘Shrek,’ which did $55.2 million in Memorial Day 2001,” said Dan Marks, executive vice president of Nielsen EDI, a box-office tracking firm. “And this ‘Shrek’ is the top-grossing Memorial Day weekend movie, edging out ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park,’ which took in $90.16 million in 1997.”

“Shrek 2,” an irreverent comedy featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, has become the first unqualified hit of the summer. “Van Helsing,” now in its fourth weekend, has taken in $110 million and “Troy” about the same in a three-week span. Although their international box office exceeds those totals, neither comes close to matching the DreamWorks juggernaut, which should exceed the $267.7-million tally of the original in a matter of weeks. Currently in 4,223 theaters, up 60 from last weekend, it has a solid per-theater average of $21,833 and an estimated cumulative gross of $257 million.


“The numbers took us by surprise,” said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks, noting that the typical drop for a blockbuster is 40%-plus, depending on the movie. “We hoped to get $80 million over the course of four days.” Tharp added. “We’re actively working on the next installment of the four-part story, shooting for a holiday 2006 release.”

The release Friday of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Tharp said, will be a “direct hit” on “Shrek’s” primary demographic, however. As the first in the series to open in the summer when kids are out of school, he noted, its potential is greater. “Spider-Man 2” also looms large -- the original holds the opening-weekend record, and sequels to popular movies usually debut well. Still, he says, its July 2 opening is a safe distance away.Brandon Gray, head of the tracking firm, said he would bet on “Shrek 2” as the leading candidate for the biggest movie of the summer. “It could do $350 million domestically, even exceeding the $337 million of ‘Finding Nemo’ -- the highest-grossing animated film of all time.”

The news is a lift for 10-year-old DreamWorks, which hasn’t had a bona fide hit since “Old School” 15 months ago. The company’s animation unit, for which it hopes to launch a public stock offering, is also in need of a boost. Although “Prince of Egypt” and “Chicken Run” took in more than $100 million domestically, neither were breakaway hits. More recently, last summer’s “Sinbad” tanked with $27 million. “The Road to El Dorado” took in $53 million in 2000 -- not a bad figure given the average take ($33 million to $55 million) for a live-action film, Tharp said, but admittedly low for animation.

“The Day After Tomorrow,” 20th Century Fox’s $125-million climate-disaster film, rode an intensive advertising campaign and tie-in with the NBA playoffs to an estimated $86-million total -- far better than the studio’s cautious mid-60s prediction and also higher than more optimistic projections by some competitors. And foreign revenues -- in an industry record-setting 102 countries -- exceeded domestic revenues even without Japan and Korea, where the film will open next week.

Playing second fiddle under these circumstances -- “Together, two films took in $178 million, nearly the total of last year’s Memorial Day” -- is OK, said Bruce Snyder, Fox’s president of distribution. “The ecological angle -- people leafleting theaters about global warming -- a theme of the picture, doesn’t seem to have made much difference one way or another, but we’ll take any press we can get.”

Disney’s “Raising Helen,” a Kate Hudson comedy, served as female-oriented counter-programming to “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Troy” and “Van Helsing.”’s Gray compared it to “Notting Hill,” which went up against “Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” which was positioned opposite “Batman & Robin.” Without the Julia Roberts factor, however, Disney’s movie grossed an estimated $14.26 million. Not embarrassing, but not by any stretch a significant hit.

In other openings, MGM’s “Soul Plane,” a poorly reviewed African American comedy, had a less impressive opening. “Obviously, we’re disappointed with a $7-million gross,” said Erik Lomis, president of distribution for MGM. “We were hoping for numbers in the $15-million neighborhood, targeting the urban audience and hoping for suburban crossover,” but he said it “should be a good DVD title, so we won’t get hurt.”

The studio was much happier with “Saved!,” a satire about a Christian high school in the South, from its United Artists’ label. Released in just 20 theaters, it took in $440,000 for a $22,000-per-theater average. One of the season’s biggest surprises is “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock’s $65,000 documentary about his monthlong McDonald’s diet. For the second week running, it secured the last slot in the top 10 -- after increasing this week to 197 theaters. Since its May 7 release, “Super Size Me” has taken in almost $5 million -- well on its way to becoming one of the highest-grossing documentaries.

Coming on the heels of the underwhelming domestic performance in the preceding, the record weekend business buoyed spirits industrywide.

“A few weeks ago, people were lamenting the fact that only ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ’50 First Dates’ had passed the $100-million mark,” said Fox’s Snyder. “How quickly we caught up. We’re 3% ahead of last year -- and the market continues to expand.”

“This weekend, we expect to come in around $240 million, well ahead of last year’s $202 million, because of this dynamic duo,” EDI’s Marks said.



Box Office

Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 4-day gross Total (millions)


*--* Shrek 2 $92.2 $257

The Day After Tomorrow 86 86

Troy 15 109.7

Raising Helen 14 14

Soul Plane 7 7

Mean Girls 6.3 73.6

Van Helsing 6.2 110.2

Man on Fire 2.4 73.3

13 Going on 30 1.4 54.5

Super Size Me 1.4 4.9


Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.

Los Angeles Times