Weekend Box Office (January 18 - 20, 2002)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The fellowship shall be disbanded as Sony's Black Hawk Down and Disney's Snow Dogs race into theaters to give moviegoers some new options over the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The adult-skewing war pic and the kid-oriented comedy will play to two entirely different audiences allowing the marketplace to expand. Meanwhile, existing hits The Lord of the Rings and A Beautiful Mind will continue to be among the top films in release and will compete for Golden Globe Awards on Sunday evening which would further strengthen their legs at the box office.

After a disappointing 2001 when it ranked dead last among the big six studios in market share, Sony Pictures comes back with guns blazing this weekend with the military action-drama Black Hawk Down from director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, and Ewan McGregor star. Set in the early years of the Clinton era, the R-rated picture follows the troubled tale of downed soldiers during 1993's conflict with Somalia. No, this is not the most commercially appealing topic for a film to cover. But buzz has been exceptionally strong during its three weeks in limited release and reviews have been extremely positive. Last weekend's industry-leading $46,779 average indicates a promising future ahead.

To ensure a top spot debut, Sony has armed Black Hawk Down with a massive 3,101 theaters giving it the widest national launch ever in the month of January. The studio's marketing efforts have grown steadily in the weeks leading up to its wide break. And the nation's current pro-U.S. military mood should also help the film sell a few tickets too. After the hits Gladiator and Hannibal, Scott now hopes to have his last three pictures cross the $100M mark joining a short list of directors like Robert Zemeckis, Steven Soderbergh, and James Cameron. Opening fire on the hobbits that have ruled the box office for the past month, Black Hawk Down may open with around $24M this weekend over the Friday-to-Sunday span and roughly $28M over the four-day period.

Talking animals attack theaters once again in Disney's family comedy Snow Dogs starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as a man who must travel to Alaska to claim his inheritance. Last summer, Dr. Dolittle 2 and Cats & Dogs rang up a combined $206M proving that kids still enjoy watching motormouth pets long after the Babe franchise got hacked to bits. With so many adult-skewing films in the marketplace, the studio is betting that young ones on a long holiday weekend away from school will want to be taken to a fun adventure flick. The film's marketing push, including trailers in front of the blockbuster Monsters, Inc., has been targeted towards its primary audience of children and parents and the Disney brand name will help the PG-rated film get more mileage.

Ordinarily, Disney waits until the Presidents Day holiday in February to unleash a new kidpic like with 1999's My Favorite Martian ($8.8M from 2,275 theaters), 2000's The Tigger Movie ($9.4M from 2,723), or last year's Recess: School's Out ($10.1M from 2,624). This allows the studio's big-ticket Thanksgiving and Christmas titles enough time to play out before a new entry is needed. But this time, with Harry Potter claiming the Turkey frame and prompting the Mouse House to move its family event film, Monsters, Inc., up to the first weekend of November, the studio saw an opportunity to go earlier than usual with Snow Dogs. The move should pay off as most kids have already seen Sulley, Harry, and even Jimmy leaving room for an adventure with Cuba. Mushing into 2,300 theaters, Snow Dogs could uncover about $11M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and $14M over the four-day span.

A number of films will add extra engagements this weekend hoping to steal business away from aging holiday titles. Miramax's Kevin Spacey melodrama The Shipping News has attracted less enthusiasm from critics and moviegoers than expected. Averaging $4,523 last weekend, the film will now expand from 266 to 439 theaters and should gross less than $2M over the weekend. Top ten residents The Royal Tenenbaums and Gosford Park, which are screening in 905 and 518 locations respectively, will also see some extra engagements which should allow them to remain in the elite group on the charts. Universal widens its French-language horror-martial arts period piece Brotherhood of the Wolf from 21 to 107 sites in 26 markets and should take in about $1M.

After a four-peat atop the box office charts, The Lord of the Rings will finally relinquish the crown this weekend but will still have a place in the top five. A 25% drop down to about $12M should result for the three-day period and a major Golden Globe win on Sunday could spike sales on the Monday holiday allowing the fantasy epic to flirt with the quarter-billion mark by the end of the long weekend. Global coin for Rings has already surged past $525M.

Best Picture foe A Beautiful Mind will also try to parlay a Globe trophy into additional revenue this weekend. The Universal hit looks to slide by a modest 20% to roughly $12M for the weekend giving the Russell Crowe saga $75M and counting. Strong word-of-mouth and critical buzz coupled with possible Globe wins, Academy Award nominations, and Oscar triumphs could allow Mind to gravitate towards Gladiator-level grosses by the end of its run.

Paramount's Orange County remains the only major offering made for teens out of school for the holiday weekend. Midweek sales have been shaky but a decent sophomore frame should result. A decline of 30% to $10M seems likely giving the MTV Films co-production $28M after ten days.

For a review of Orange County visit The Chief Report.

LAST YEAR The top three films remained unchanged from the previous weekend as the teen romance Save the Last Dance repeated as the nation's top picture with $15.4M in its second twirl. Tom Hanks stayed afloat in the runnerup spot with Cast Away grabbing another $11.2M in its fifth weekend. The drug drama Traffic placed third with $8.5M in its third hit in wide release. Opening moderately well in fourth was Guy Ritchie's Snatch with Brad Pitt with $8M and a solid $5,544 average. The Sony release went on to collect $30.1M domestically. Mel Gibson rounded out the top five with What Women Want which pulled in $6.9M in its sixth date. Debuting outside of the top ten were The Pledge starring Jack Nicholson with $5.8M and The Gift which opened with $3.5M. Final tallies reached $19.7M and $12M respectively.

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Last Updated : January 17, 2002 at 11:30AM EST