Thriller has brute strength

Times Staff Writer

In a flurry of claws and teeth, Universal Pictures’ “Van Helsing” dominated the box office with a healthy $54.2 million on its opening weekend, kicking off the unofficial start of the summer movie season. The weekend’s other major new offering, “New York Minute” starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, landed in fourth place with $6.24 million, according to estimates early Sunday.

Universal International, which launched director Stephen Sommers’ Dracula-Wolfman-Frankenstein monster bash simultaneously in 41 territories worldwide, also had reason to cheer, taking in a studio record of $53 million overseas and opening at No. 1 in several countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

“Everyone knows who Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman are, but not as many people know Van Helsing. We’re going to do a lot with this brand,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. Already the studio has plans for a spinoff TV series, “Transylvania” on NBC, and a sequel is in the works.

For Universal, “Van Helsing’s” numbers come as a relief. Early Internet reviews helped to create bad advance buzz and the largely negative critics’ reviews did not help. With new corporate parent NBC looking closely at the bottom line, the film’s $160-million price tag seemed risky considering Universal’s last special effects-heavy summer event, the $137-million “The Hulk,” grossed a disappointing $132 million domestically last year and “Van Helsing” will face off against another epic film, Warner Bros’ “Troy,” on Friday.


Demographic information taken over the weekend showed the audience was fairly evenly split, with 54% being 25 and older and 58% male.

The first weekend of May has treated Universal and Sommers well in the past. The studio opened the director’s last two films, “The Mummy” (1999) and “The Mummy Returns” (2001), on this same weekend to great success. The films went on to gross $416 million and $433 million, respectively, worldwide.

Despite being a powerful force on TV and home video, the Olsen twins failed to capture that magic at the box office with the disappointing opening of “New York Minute.” Entering a field already crowded with movies aimed at teenage girls, the film failed to overtake Paramount’s “Mean Girls,” which had $14 million in its second weekend. In its third weekend, “13 Going on 30" was in fifth place with $5.5 million.

After its much-noted premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and the ongoing obesity debate, director Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Super Size Me” opened on 41 screens in eight markets for an impressive weekend gross of $536,936, averaging $13,064 per screen. By comparison, “Van Helsing” averaged $15,165 on 3,575 screens.


Describing Spurlock’s on-screen persona as “Michael Moore-nice,” Michael Silberman, IDP Distribution president, hopes to expand the film, the story of a man eating nothing but McDonald’s food for a month, in the top 25 markets next weekend.

“We’d like to keep expanding and reach our peak over Memorial Day, when most people are out over their grills,” Silberman said.




Box Office

Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total (millions)



*--* Van Helsing $54.2 $54.2

Mean Girls 14 42.4

Man on Fire 7.9 56

New York Minute 6.2 6.2


13 Going on 30 5.5 42.6

Laws of Attraction 3.5 11.9

Kill Bill Vol. 2 3 57.8

Godsend 2.7 11.3


Envy 2.6 10.1

The Punisher 1.2 32.1


Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.