Weekend Box Office (March 15 - 17, 2002)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND A trio of new releases, led by the mammoth opening of Fox's Ice Age, caused March madness at the box office which generated the highest weekend gross for the month ever. Sony's video game-inspired horror flick Resident Evil and the Warner Bros. comedy Showtime delivered solid debuts taking second and third place respectively while sophomore titles The Time Machine and All About the Benjamins saw sales get sliced in half. Most other releases held up moderately well with the top ten alone accounting for a lofty $117M in ticket sales.

Setting a new March opening weekend record, the animated comedy Ice Age towered over the competition debuting at number one with $46.3M this weekend, according to final studio figures. Playing ultrawide in 3,316 theaters, the PG-rated toon averaged a husky $13,966 per location and delivered the biggest opening ever for a non-Disney animated film. The previous record holder was DreamWorks' hit Shrek which bowed with $42.3M last May while the previous best March opening was $31.4M claimed by Universal's Liar Liar five years ago. Among all animated film openings, Ice Age ranks third behind the Disney-Pixar duo Monsters, Inc. ($62.6M) and Toy Story 2 ($57.4M).

Budgeted at $58M, Ice Age marks a dramatic rebound for Fox which last entered the animation field with the expensive sci-fi flop Titan A.E. which grossed a puny $22.8M in the summer of 2000. Plus, this weekend's performance stands as the studio's fifth largest opening ever after Planet of the Apes ($68.5M) , Star Wars Episode I ($64.8M) , X-Men ($54.5M) and Independence Day ($50.2M). Bruce Snyder, distribution president for Fox, stated that Ice Age connected with every demographic group and played especially well with teen audiences. Snyder also noted that the $46.3M debut flew well past the studio's expectations going into the weekend which were in the low 30 million dollar range. The attached trailer to Star Wars Episode II also boosted public interest in seeing Ice Age, though Snyder believed that it had little effect overall.

Ice Age scored points with critics and movie patrons alike. Reviews were generally positive while audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the animated film an encouraging A grade. Next weekend will be the real test of the film's staying power as it tries to hold the top spot against the 20th anniversary re-release of Steven Spielberg's E.T. which will play to much the same audience.

Opening with strength in second place was a movie of a different kind - the horror film Resident Evil. Based on the popular video game, Sony's Screen Gems release grossed a terrific $17.7M. The R-rated thriller played in 2,528 theaters and averaged a vicious $7,004. Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez star in the critically-panned film about renegades fighting to save the world from the undead. As the third video game-based film released in less than a year, Resident Evil opened better than Final Fantasy ($11.4M) but did not reach the heights of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($47.7M). Moviegoers were somewhat satisfied with CinemaScore audiences giving Resident Evil an acceptable B grade.

The new film with the most starpower, the cop comedy Showtime starring Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy, generated the smallest opening with a $15M debut. Released by Warner Bros., the PG-13 film played very wide in 2,917 theaters and averaged a decent, but not arresting, $5,146. The opening weekend gross trailed the debuts of De Niro's recent comedy hits Analyze This ($18.4M) and Meet the Parents ($28.6M) and also did not match the premieres of Murphy's last non-sequel comedies Bowfinger ($18.1M) and Life ($20.4M). Reviews were mixed for Showtime and moviegoers were not terribly impressed as the buddy picture earned a B- grade from CinemaScore audiences.

Last weekend's top film, The Time Machine, fell sharply in its second try grossing $10.8M. Down a steep 52%, the DreamWorks/Warner Bros. co-production has generated a ten-day total of $39.9M and looks to find its way to about $60-65M domestically. Mel Gibson's war drama We Were Soldiers fell a reasonable 40% to $8.5M in its third weekend. Placing fifth, the Paramount film has grossed a solid $53.3M in 17 days.

Ice Cube and Mike Epps watched sales tumble 50% for their action-comedy All About the Benjamins which grossed $5M in its second weekend. The $14M New Line production has collected $17.6M in ten days and should find its way to $25-30M. Like many of Ice Cube's films, Benjamins will end up being a very profitable venture after its theatrical and video releases.

Dropping 38% to seventh place was Miramax's romantic comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights with $4.4M for the weekend and $29.9M after 17 days. Oscar combatants Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe took the next two spots with their films. Washington's new hostage drama John Q collected $3.6M in its fifth weekend pushing its cume to $64.4M while Crowe's Academy Award-nominated turn in A Beautiful Mind brought in $3.4M, off only 13%, raising the Universal release's total to $149.2M. Disney's animated feature Return to Never Land rounded out the top ten with $2.1M pushing its sum to $45.2M.

Close behind in the number eleven spot was Best Picture candidate The Lord of the Rings with $2.1M in its thirteenth weekend of release. Off only 21% in the final frame before Oscar weekend, the New Line fantasy epic lifted its total to $294.3M. The Hobbit tale climbed one more notch to number eleven on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters trailing 1996's Independence Day with $306.2M. Look for The Fellowship of the Ring to crack the all-time top ten later this spring as an undetermined number of Oscar statues and the March 29 debut of the trailer to December's The Two Towers, which will begin running at the end of Fellowship, will keep audiences lined up.

A pair of Universal releases also fell from the weekend top ten. The Kevin Costner thriller Dragonfly fell 51% to $2M in its fourth frame giving it $28.1M to date. Budgeted at $60M, the suspense picture should conclude with just $30-33M. On the other hand, the $15M kid comedy Big Fat Liar pushed its cume to a solid $46.3M after a $1.7M frame. Off 51%, the Frankie Muniz picture looks to reach just under $50M.

Disney was overjoyed by extremely successful sneak previews for its uplifting baseball drama The Rookie which screened on Saturday evening in 1,100 locations. A perfect 100% of those polled marked the Dennis Quaid film as being "excellent" or "very good." Overall, the sneaks were at about 80% capacity and skewed slightly more male. The Rookie opens nationwide on March 29 into a crowded marketplace for family films and kidpics as it faces Paramount's Nickelodeon-based opener Clockstoppers and holdover business from E.T. and Ice Age.

The Indian ensemble hit Monsoon Wedding cracked the Top 20 in its fourth weekend of release grossing $774,150 in 98 theaters for a solid $7,899 average. USA Films added 22 venues and watched its cume rise to $2.2M.

IFC's Spanish-language film Y Tu Mama Tambien opened very well with $408,091 from 42 theaters for a strong $9,716 average per location. A wider expansion is set for March 29.

Opening impressively in limited release was Fox Searchlight's girl-meets-girl tale Kissing Jessica Stein which grossed an estimated $346,999 from 26 sites for a sturdy $13,346 average. Opening on Wednesday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Toronto, the romantic comedy has taken in $414,653 in five days. Stein will enter 14 more cities on March 22, 19 additional markets on March 27, and should be in 400-500 runs by the weekend of April 5, according to Fox Searchlight.

Universal Focus suffered a dismal debut for its Andie MacDowell drama Harrison's Flowers which grossed just $867,635 from 398 theaters. Averaging a poor $2,180 per theater, the film bowed in a curiously high number of theaters for a low-profile film.

The top ten films grossed $116.8M which was up a remarkable 72% from last year when Exit Wounds opened at number one with $18.5M; and up 64% from 2000 when Erin Brockovich opened in the top spot with $28.1M.

Compared to projections, Ice Age more than doubled my $19M forecast. Resident Evil also surged higher than my $9M prediction while Showtime opened below my $22M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which film will win the Oscar for Best Picture. In last week's survey, readers were asked if the attached trailer to Star Wars Episode II made them want to see Ice Age more. Of 2,616 responses, 55% said Yes while 45% voted No. For a review of Showtime visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when the re-release of E.T., Blade II, and Sorority Boys all open.

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

# Title Mar 15 - 17 Mar 8 - 10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Ice Age $ 46,312,454 3,316 1 $ 13,966 $ 46,312,454 Fox
2 Resident Evil 17,707,106 2,528 1 7,004 17,707,106 Sony
3 Showtime 15,011,430 2,917 1 5,146 15,011,430 Warner Bros.
4 The Time Machine 10,795,951 22,610,437 -52.3 2,958 2 3,650 39,936,148 DreamWorks
5 We Were Soldiers 8,488,331 14,208,525 -40.3 3,143 3 2,701 53,326,665 Paramount
6 All About the Benjamins 4,990,628 10,007,291 -50.1 1,519 2 3,285 17,575,723 New Line
7 40 Days and 40 Nights 4,358,186 7,033,952 -38.0 2,312 3 1,885 29,856,657 Miramax
8 John Q 3,622,711 5,924,783 -38.9 2,019 5 1,794 64,377,947 New Line
9 A Beautiful Mind 3,380,260 3,872,880 -12.7 1,533 13 2,205 149,205,356 Universal
10 Return to Never Land 2,122,386 4,459,520 -52.4 1,895 5 1,120 45,184,951 Buena Vista
11 The Lord of the Rings 2,118,375 2,683,317 -21.1 1,101 13 1,924 294,343,844 New Line
12 Dragonfly 1,977,955 4,023,320 -50.8 1,790 4 1,105 28,087,375 Universal
13 Big Fat Liar 1,706,125 3,484,315 -51.0 1,602 6 1,065 46,299,695 Universal
14 Gosford Park 1,450,159 1,688,318 -14.1 856 12 1,694 35,531,979 USA Films
15 Monster's Ball 1,333,960 1,663,494 -19.8 609 12 2,190 17,528,865 Lions Gate
16 Crossroads 1,122,304 2,442,226 -54.0 1,354 5 829 36,203,756 Paramount
17 In the Bedroom 1,020,397 1,409,007 -27.6 717 17 1,423 32,378,009 Miramax
18 Harrison's Flowers 867,635 398 1 2,180 867,635 Universal Focus
19 The Count of Monte Cristo 865,552 1,614,387 -46.4 604 8 1,433 51,925,800 Buena Vista
20 Monsoon Wedding 774,150 772,141 0.3 98 4 7,899 2,208,687 USA Films
Top 5 $ 98,315,272 $ 59,784,988 64.4
Top 10 116,789,443 78,308,340 49.1
Top 20 130,026,055 94,529,763 37.6
Top 20 vs. 2001 130,026,055 79,096,666 64.4

Last Updated : March 19, 2002 at 11:00AM EST