Weekend Box Office (April 7 - 9, 2000)

THIS WEEKEND The military firepower of Rules of Engagement finally managed to upstage the strong legs of three-time box office incumbent Erin Brockovich for the number one spot. A trio of other spring newcomers saw results that ranged from moderate to poor. Three pictures played in more than 3,000 theaters each but only one entry in the top ten averaged more than $4,000 per site. With so many films being released each weekend in April, the marketplace continued to become fragmented with very few breakout hits.

Paramount hit the top of the charts with its military thriller Rules of Engagement which opened with $15M according to final studio figures. Tommy Lee Jones stars as a retired Marine hired to defend his long-time colleague, played by Samuel L. Jackson, from a government coverup that aims to blame the soldier for an international rescue operation gone wrong. The studio backed the $60M film with an expensive print and advertising budget by launching the pic ultrawide in 3,155 theaters resulting in a fair, but not stellar, $4,758 average which still led all wide players.

The debut came close to two other Tommy Lee Jones spring action vehicles - U.S. Marshals ($16.9M opening/$57.8M total) from March 1998 and Volcano ($14.6M/$47.5M) in April 1997. Paramount rejoiced in its first number one movie since last fall's Double Jeopardy which coincidentally also starred Jones. But while Rules of Engagement easily led the box office, its opening muscle was not as strong as some industry observers had expected. Still, Rules experienced a solid 44% jump on Saturday over Friday and since it appeals to an older crowd, moviegoers should continue to show up in the weeks ahead.

After three long weeks at number one, Julia Roberts settled for the bridesmaid position with Erin Brockovich which once again boasted one of the smallest declines in the top ten. The Universal hit eased just 29% to $9.8M and raised its impressive total to $89.6M. Erin could reach the $100M mark as early as next weekend making it the first blockbuster of the new decade. The cleavage-filled legal drama also helped Universal leapfrog over Miramax to rank third in market share for the year to date. (For more on the studio rankings, see the Weekly Rewind column)

DreamWorks' animated adventure film The Road to El Dorado enjoyed a good hold in its second journey dropping 29% to $9.1M putting its ten-day tally at $25.1M. With no other major kids offerings in the marketplace, the golden toon could uncover a respectable $55M before venturing into the land of sell-through video.

David Duchovny and Minnie Driver snuggled up into fourth place with the romantic comedy Return to Me which opened with $7.8M. The MGM/UA release was lovestruck in 2,007 theaters and averaged a moderate $3,897. Studio distribution head Larry Gleason noted that Return to Me played best with adult women with 60% of the audience being female and the majority being age 35 or older. Gleason also credits last Saturday's sneak previews and the current lack of romances for the opening turnout.

Dropping 42% in its sophomore term, the college campus thriller The Skulls grossed $6.5M pushing its ten-day sum to $20.2M. Universal, which paid $11M plus P&A costs to distribute, should eventually see a pleasing $33-36M domestic take.

Warner Bros. tried to cash in on the immense popularity of pro wrestling but got bodyslammed instead with the poorly-reviewed comedy Ready to Rumble which opened with a disappointing $5.3M. Macho men David Arquette and Scott Caan star as crazed wrestling fans who hunt down their favorite grappler and try to resurrect his career. The 107-minute commercial for World Championship Wrestling played very wide in 2,585 locations but delivered a not-so-nitro $2,034 average. In a move of corporate synergy, Time Warner hoped its healthy movie studio could help its beleaguered wrestling federation get back on its feet but fans were simply not ready to rumble.

Jet Li's martial arts action film Romeo Must Die took it on the chin again crumbling 52% to $4.6M giving the Warner Bros. release $45.8M to date. Romeo does, however, have the best selling movie soundtrack in the country. High Fidelity, the John Cusack record store comedy, dropped a moderate 34% in its sophomore frame to $4.2M. The Buena Vista title should find its way to $23-25M.

The spring sleeper hit Final Destination was off just 28% and collected $3.8M pushing its total to a solid $33.9M. Academy Award favorite American Beauty rounded out the top ten with $3.3M lifting its cume to $121.6M. The tragic suburban satire also won the United Kingdom's highest movie honors by taking home six prestigious BAFTA awards over the weekend including trophies for best film, actor, and actress.

Sony's new urban drama Black and White attracted little interest over the weekend opening with just $2.2M. The $5M James Toback-directed picture about the mixing of two street cultures in New York City debuted in 1,284 theaters but managed a weak $1,723 average per site. Black and White's total gross since its Wednesday launch is a colorless $3M.

Two teen flicks and a space movie fell out of the top ten over the weekend. After a four-week journey, Buena Vista's Mission to Mars tumbled 53% in its fifth frame to $1.6M. The Brian DePalma film has grossed $57M to date and looks set to touch down with around $60M domestically.

The high school pics Here on Earth and Whatever it Takes fell sharply in their third terms and have reached cumes of $9.5M and $8.4M respectively. Look for the pair of delinquents to reach roughly $11-12M a piece.

Platforming in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend, the Oscar-nominated French picture East-West grossed $56,147 in eight sites for a hot $7,018 average.

Disney's Fantasia 2000 was relatively even with last weekend's $1.3M gross and boosted its domestic cume to a hearty $40.2M as it nears the end of its exclusive four-month IMAX run in 54 locations. After closing up shop on April 30th, the Mouse House plans to launch a traditional 35mm release in mid-June.

During its time off, Disney is sure to soak up lots of dollars with its lavish animated feature Dinosaur which bows nationwide on May 19th. Also on the menu for summer moviegoers is the sci-fi action film Titan A.E. from Fox's animation unit which blasts off on June 16th as well as Chicken Run from DreamWorks which hits cinemas a week later. Studios will be crossing their fingers during the crowded Toon June as ticket buyers decide which animated film(s) they find the most appealing.

Compared to projections, Rules of Engagement opened weaker than my $18M forecast. Return to Me was very close to my $7M prediction while Ready to Rumble failed to reach my $8M projection. Erin Brockovich and The Road to El Dorado were both on target with my respective forecasts of $10M and $9M. Black and White opened below my $4M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Oscar winner Angelina Jolie. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of five April releases they were looking forward to the most. Of 2,090 responses, 28% picked U-571, 28% chose American Psycho, 21% selected 28 Days, 14% said Rules of Engagement, and 9% went with The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the studio market share race in the first quarter of 2000. This Wednesday's new column will look at the top April openings. For reviews of American Psycho and Ready to Rumble visit The Chief Report.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $69.4M which was up 7% from last year when The Matrix held onto the top spot with $22.6M, and up a scant 1% from 1998 when City of Angels premiered at number one with $15.4M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when another batch of new releases hits theaters including 28 Days, American Psycho, and Keeping the Faith.

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

# Title Apr. 7 - 9 Mar. 31 - Apr. 2 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Rules of Engagement $ 15,011,181 3,155 1 $ 4,758 $ 15,011,181 Paramount
2 Erin Brockovich 9,808,065 13,798,460 -28.9 3,265 4 3,004 89,632,165 Universal
3 The Road to El Dorado 9,085,803 12,846,652 -29.3 3,223 2 2,819 25,123,505 DreamWorks
4 Return to Me 7,820,836 2,007 1 3,897 7,820,836 Miramax
5 The Skulls 6,450,720 11,034,885 -41.5 2,416 2 2,670 20,199,130 Universal
6 Ready to Rumble 5,257,778 2,585 1 2,034 5,257,778 Warner Bros.
7 Romeo Must Die 4,552,754 9,378,376 -51.5 2,289 3 1,989 45,844,086 Warner Bros.
8 High Fidelity 4,241,028 6,429,107 -34.0 1,229 2 3,451 12,789,912 Buena Vista
9 Final Destination 3,835,071 5,355,284 -28.4 2,014 4 1,904 33,897,819 New Line
10 American Beauty 3,348,307 5,407,279 -38.1 1,934 30 1,731 121,638,562 DreamWorks
11 Black and White 2,212,535 1,284 1 1,723 2,966,347 Sony
12 Mission to Mars 1,563,984 3,324,853 -53.0 1,594 5 981 57,001,583 Buena Vista
13 Fantasia 2000 1,295,458 1,257,778 3.0 54 15 23,990 40,208,974 Buena Vista
14 The Cider House Rules 1,108,712 2,051,924 -46.0 1,021 18 1,086 54,782,511 Miramax
15 My Dog Skip 964,300 1,747,722 -44.8 1,401 13 688 30,582,089 Warner Bros.
16 Here on Earth 948,532 2,262,462 -58.1 1,240 3 765 9,515,532 Fox
17 Price of Glory 720,446 1,611,833 -55.3 807 2 893 2,725,180 New Line
18 Boys Don't Cry 674,451 984,311 -31.5 360 27 1,873 10,369,824 Fox Searchlight
19 Whatever It Takes 566,871 2,237,341 -74.7 1,278 3 444 8,427,155 Sony
20 The Sixth Sense 512,765 902,491 -43.2 579 36 886 292,516,192 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 48,176,605 $ 53,487,480 -9.9
Top 10 69,411,543 72,074,699 -3.7
Top 20 79,979,597 83,263,372 -3.9

Last Updated : April 10 at 9:30PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya