Weekend Box Office (February 15 - 18, 2002)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Denzel Washington held the North American box office under siege with his newest film John Q which captured the number one spot while fellow Hollywood heavyweight Bruce Willis suffered his worst opening in over five years with the military drama Hart's War. Britney Spears' Crossroads and Disney's Return to Never Land also performed well in their debuts over the crowded Presidents Day holiday weekend taking home the silver and bronze medals respectively.

Five-time Academy Award nominee Denzel Washington returned to familiar territory and scored the eighth number-one opening of his career with the hostage drama John Q which grossed $23.6M, according to final figures, over the long four-day holiday weekend. The New Line release took control of 2,466 theaters and averaged a terrific $9,575 over the Friday-to-Monday span. The Nick Cassavetes-directed picture also set a new record for biggest Presidents Day weekend opening beating 1998's The Wedding Singer (also a New Line release) which debuted with a four-day take of $21.9M. For Washington, John Q represented his third consecutive $20M+ opening following last fall's Training Day ($22.6M) and 2000's Remember the Titans ($20.9M) once again proving the actor's ability to draw large crowds.

Though slammed by critics, ticket buyers seemed to connect with the story of a desperate father who holds an emergency room hostage demanding a heart transplant for his dying son. Moviegoers polled by CinemaScore gave John Q an encouraging A grade. The PG-13 film's impressive $20.6M three-day bow stands as the year's second-best opening behind Black Hawk Down's $28.6M and the fourth biggest in the month of February after last year's Hannibal ($58M), 2000's Scream 3 ($34.7M), and 1999's Payback ($21.2M). With strong exit polls, a sturdy per-theater average, and a healthy 35% Friday-to-Saturday increase, John Q could continue to play well throughout the spring season.

Pop diva Britney Spears sang her heart out and nabbed a strong number two opening for her motion picture debut in Crossroads which grossed $17M over four days. Dancing in her underwear in 2,380 theaters, the PG-13 picture averaged an impressive $7,149 per site. The female bonding road picture was produced by MTV Films for $12M and released by Viacom sibling Paramount and, as expected, performed best with young females. With a top ten full of films aimed at men and kids, Crossroads attacked an underserved, but highly lucrative, segment of the moviegoing public and came out ahead of most other contenders.

With its racy content, Crossroads edged out the opening weekend tally of pop singer Mandy Moore's squeaky clean romance A Walk to Remember which bowed with $12.2M last month, and performed much like Paramount's last teen-oriented MTV production, January's Orange County, which debuted with $15.1M over three days. More stars from the Billboard charts are set to invade the box office ranks with next weekend's vampire thriller Queen of the Damned starring the late R&B singer Aaliyah and this summer's 8 Mile from rapper Eminem.

Disney connected with family audiences over the holiday weekend as the studio was greeted with a solid $15.6M debut for its animated film Return to Never Land. Continuing the story of Peter Pan, the G-rated toon floated into 2,605 theaters (the most among new releases) and averaged a sturdy $5,997 over the Friday-to-Monday span. The performance was solid considering the fact that two other popular kids films were still controling real estate in the top ten - Universal's Big Fat Liar and Disney's own Snow Dogs. With an A grade from CinemaScore audiences, and the next kidpic Ice Age still a month away, Return to Never Land looks to have bright propects in the weeks ahead.

Slipping two spots was Universal's comedy Big Fat Liar which took in $11.4M in its sophomore frame. The Frankie Muniz picture has collected $24.9M in eleven days and looks headed for $50M or more.

Last weekend's gold medal winner, Collateral Damage starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, took the biggest fall in the top ten and dropped to fifth place with $9.6M. The Warner Bros. action film has grossed $29.1M in eleven days and should find its way to about $50M domestically.

Turning its eight Oscar nominations into box office gold, Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind watched ticket sales climb an impressive 29% from last weekend (when comparing three-day periods) to $9.4M for the long weekend. Averaging a still-solid $4,530 per theater, the Universal/DreamWorks co-production upped its cume to $125.7M. With moviegoers catching up on best picture nominees over the next month, A Beautiful Mind now stands a chance of reaching the $187.7M that Russell Crowe's Gladiator grossed before earning five Academy Awards including best picture and best actor.

Another week, another costly flop for MGM. After last weekend's disappointing debut for Rollerball, the studio's military drama Hart's War starring Bruce Willis suffered a poor showing in its debut grossing $8.9M over four days. Playing in 2,459 theaters, the R-rated film averaged just $3,622 per venue. Reviews were generally good and CinemaScore audiences gave the film a decent B grade. With Hart's War, the Die Hard hero suffered his worst opening since Last Man Standing's $7M bow in September 1996.

The modest performance of the opening weekend of Hart's War comes in sharp contrast to the debuts of the recent military films Black Hawk Down and Behind Enemy Lines which launched with $28.6M and $18.7M respectively. If American moviegoers are indeed getting tired of war films, then Paramount executives will begin shaking in their combat boots as the studio is set to release Mel Gibson's Vietnam War battle saga We Were Soldiers in less than two weeks.

Ninth place was claimed by the cop comedy Super Troopers which opened with $7.1M from 1,780 theaters for a not-so-arresting $4,016 average over four days. Fox Searchlight backed the R-rated film with one of the widest releases in company history but with no stars or pre-sold concept, Troopers just could not break through such a cluttered marketplace. The distributor acquired the independent film for just over $3M at last year's Sundance film festival and pumped in millions more in print and advertising costs trying to reach its target young male audience. But given its low cost, Super Troopers should turn a profit.

Rounding out the top ten were the hit films Black Hawk Down in eighth with $7.3M and Snow Dogs in tenth with $6.7M. Totals as of Monday are $96.5M and $68.1M respectively.

Practicing magic in 12th place was New Line's megablockbuster The Lord of the Rings which enjoyed a terrific boost thanks to its astounding 13 Oscar nominations. The Hobbit tale took in $5.7M over four days, up sharply from last weekend's three-day tally of $3.6M, and pushed its total to $278.6M.

The top ten films grossed $116.7M over four days which was down 1.5% from last year when Hannibal remained in the top spot with $29.7M; and up 10% from 2000 when The Whole Nine Yards debuted at number one with $13.7M.

Compared to projections, John Q opened much stronger than my four-day projection of $15M. Crossroads and Return to Never Land both come in a bit above my forecasts of $14M and $13M. Hart's War debuted below my $13M prediction while Super Troopers came close to my $7M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on who will win the Oscar for Best Actress. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Star Wars Episode II will outgross Episode I. Of 2,829 responses, 42% said Yes while 58% thought No.

For a review of John Q visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Queen of the Damned and Dragonfly both open.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and posters at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Feb 15 - 18 Feb 8 - 10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 John Q $ 23,612,171 2,466 1 $ 9,575 $ 23,612,171 New Line
2 Crossroads 17,014,226 2,380 1 7,149 17,014,226 Paramount
3 Return to Never Land 15,623,464 2,605 1 5,997 15,623,464 Buena Vista
4 Big Fat Liar 11,428,335 11,554,015 -1.1 2,534 2 4,510 24,919,665 Universal
5 Collateral Damage 9,615,436 15,058,432 -36.1 2,824 2 3,405 29,083,350 Warner Bros.
6 A Beautiful Mind 9,426,085 6,304,800 49.5 2,081 9 4,530 125,695,006 Universal
7 Hart's War 8,907,413 2,459 1 3,622 8,907,413 MGM
8 Black Hawk Down 7,251,711 8,003,621 -9.4 2,150 8 3,373 96,463,507 Sony
9 Super Troopers 7,149,203 1,780 1 4,016 7,149,203 Fox Searchlight
10 Snow Dogs 6,704,229 7,178,790 -6.6 2,286 5 2,933 68,115,878 Buena Vista
11 The Count of Monte Cristo 5,725,242 6,455,196 -11.3 1,525 4 3,754 40,352,731 Buena Vista
12 The Lord of the Rings 5,709,959 3,618,397 57.8 1,507 9 3,789 278,643,479 New Line
13 Rollerball 4,696,787 9,013,548 -47.9 2,762 2 1,701 15,593,877 Universal
14 I Am Sam 4,316,157 4,619,148 -6.6 1,259 8 3,428 29,951,434 New Line
15 A Walk to Remember 3,918,586 5,542,525 -29.3 1,936 4 2,024 35,960,066 Warner Bros.
16 Monster's Ball 3,217,185 2,321,246 38.6 473 8 6,802 8,051,471 Lions Gate
17 In the Bedroom 3,094,305 1,694,211 82.6 1,002 13 3,088 23,224,195 Miramax
18 The Mothman Prophecies 2,927,222 4,870,476 -39.9 1,410 4 2,076 32,408,622 Sony
19 Gosford Park 2,836,347 1,891,252 50.0 837 8 3,389 25,767,044 USA Films
20 Beauty & The Beast - SE 1,378,118 977,455 41.0 68 7 20,266 17,248,224 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 77,293,632 $ 50,808,406 52.1
Top 10 116,732,273 78,600,551 48.5
Top 20 154,552,181 95,612,557 61.6
Top 20 vs. 2001 154,552,181 137,133,316 12.7

Last Updated : February 20, 2002 at 10:45AM EST