Weekend Box Office (April 21 - 23, 2000)

THIS WEEKEND Military themes remained in the minds of moviegoers as the new submarine actioner U-571 towered over all competitors including two-week champ Rules of Engagement. Easter and Passover joined forces to make it a busy frame as most holdovers in the top ten witnessed relatively small declines. Love and Basketball opened impressively while fellow freshman Gossip was mostly ignored. With the summer movie season right around the corner, the box office awakened from its spring slumber as ticket buyers got a taste of the event films to come.

Action fans powered the new submarine thriller U-571 to the top of the charts over the weekend spending $19.6M on the new Universal release according to final studio figures. Launching in 2,583 theaters, the World War II picture averaged a lethal $7,570 per vessel. Matthew McConaughey stars with Bill Paxton and Harvey Keitel as American naval officers sent on a mission to recover a secret German decoding device from a downed U-Boat in the North Atlantic. The impressive bow was good enough to give the $62M underwater adventure the fourth biggest debut of the year and the fifth best April opening ever. U-571 also powered ahead of previous submarine movie debuts like 1995's Crimson Tide ($18.6M in 2,382 theaters) and 1990's The Hunt For Red October ($17.2M in 1,225).

As expected, the tense sub pic performed best with males audiences but also registered healthy results from all age and gender quadrants, according to Universal. Though the spring box office has been crowded with comedies, thrillers, and dramas, a large-scale, big-budget action movie had been missing for some time and moviegoers found it in U-571. The studio's decision to schedule the film before all the summer testosterone pictures invade theaters in May also paid off handsomely. Universal produced U-571 in association with France's Studio Canal which will handle most overseas territories. Reviews have been good and no direct competition stands in its path until Gladiator on May 5th so the voyage ahead could be muscular. Looking at the bigger picture, U-571's strength should help Universal leapfrog over Warner Bros. next weekend for the runnerup spot in the annual market share race trailing perennial leader Buena Vista.

Delivering a slam dunk in second place was a film few industry observers expected to perform so well. New Line's sports-themed romance Love and Basketball opened with $8.1M in only 1,237 theaters for a sizzling $6,580 average. Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan play childhood friends whose hoop dreams take them through the years as their love for basketball battles their love for each other. With most of the top ten movies boasting all-white casts, New Line took advantage of a void in the marketplace and scored a three-pointer with their counterprogramming play. With films like Love and Basketball, Final Destination, and Next Friday, New Line Cinema has quietly become one of the more profitable distributors this year by attracting sizable audiences to low-cost releases.

After two weeks as commander-in-chief of the North American box office, the military saga Rules of Engagement stepped back to third place with $8M. With a noble $43.1M so far, and a good 27% depreciation, the Paramount release held up very well despite an incoming attack from fellow military thriller U-571. Rules of Engagement could find its way to $65-70M in domestic receipts.

The romantic comedies 28 Days and Keeping the Faith rounded out the top five with $7.3M and $7.2M respectively. Sony's Sandra Bullock starrer declined a moderate 29% over the holiday weekend and brought its ten-day tally to $22M. A final gross in the neighborhood of $40M should result. Meanwhile, Buena Vista's religiously themed comedy reached $18.6M in ten days but enjoyed a terrific hold slipping just 10% from last weekend's bow. The distributor credits fantastic word-of-mouth for the solid sophomore session and expects to keep holding on in the weeks to come.

It was a devilishly good weekend for Julia Roberts as her latest movie seized sixth place in its sixth weekend to become her sixth biggest blockbuster ever. Erin Brockovich bagged $5.5M, slipping only 22%, and brought its cume to a smashing $107.4M. The leggy Universal picture trails Pretty Woman ($178.4M), Runaway Bride ($152.2M), My Best Friend's Wedding ($126.8M), Hook ($119.7M), and Notting Hill ($116.1M) but continues to climb the Julia Roberts totem pole of hits.

Having the family audience all to itself over the holiday weekend, The Road to Eldorado slipped just 15% to $5.2M and raised its golden cume to $41.9M. The romantic comedy Return to Me was off only 21% and collected $4M lifting its 17-day total to a respectable $21.2M.

Rounding out the top ten, Final Destination remained resilient in its sixth flight easing a scant 9% to $2.8M for a superb total to date of $42.6M. Fellow teen chiller The Skulls grossed $2.7M in its fourth semester pushing its cume to $30.3M.

For the fourth straight weekend, a new wide release got clobbered and debuted poorly outside of the top ten. This week's victim was the college thriller Gossip starring Joshua Jackson and a cast of little known young stars which flunked out with $2.3M. The Warner Bros. film averaged a pitiful $1,522 in 1,525 theaters and apparently suffered from a crowded marketplace that included a number of other suspense pictures geared towards teens and young adults.

Opening strongly in limited release was Paramount Classics' The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola, which sliced up $235,122 in just 18 locations for a robust $13,062 average. The tragic dramedy stars Kathleen Turner, James Woods, and Kirsten Dunst and platformed in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Paramount Classics co-president David Dinerstein noted that 70% of the audience fell in the 21-35 age group, and that the film will widen on May 5th and break nationally on May 12th. The Virgin Suicides marks the biggest bow yet for Paramount's newly formed independent film division.

Miramax's British import East is East expanded from 4 to 18 playdates and saw its weekend gross climb to $210,489 for a solid $11,694 average. That's only a slim decline from its debut average of $13,392 last weekend and gives the award-winning comedy $292,194 in only ten days of limited release.

Two male tales fell out of the top ten over the weekend. The controversial Wall Street killer pic American Psycho saw ticket sales get slashed by 46% in its sophomore frame as it fell to eleventh place with $2.7M. The $7M Lions Gate satire has grossed $9.7M in ten days and should conclude with around $15M. The pro wrestling flop Ready to Rumble was thrown over the top rope in its third weekend and has collected about $11.3M to date. Look for the Warner Bros. title to retire with a disappointing $13-15M.

Compared to projections, U-571 debuted very close to my $18M forecast. Love and Basketball doubled my $4M prediction while Gossip failed to reach my $5M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which summer movie you are looking forward to the most. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether U-571 would open with at least $16M. Of 1,865 responses, 77% correctly voted yes while 23% said no.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column on the box office from April 1990. This Wednesday's new column will look at the films with the worst opening weekends of the year. For a review of U-571 visit The Chief Report.

The top ten films over the holiday weekend grossed $70.4M which was up 47% from last year when The Matrix reclaimed the top spot with $12.6M, and up 51% from 1998 when The Big Hit opened at number one with $10.8M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, Frequency, and Where the Heart Is all open.

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

# Title Apr. 21 - 23 Apr. 14 - 16 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 U-571 $ 19,553,310 2,583 1 $ 7,570 $ 19,553,310 Universal
2 Love and Basketball 8,139,180 1,237 1 6,580 8,139,180 New Line
3 Rules of Engagement 8,007,551 10,933,627 -26.8 3,220 3 2,487 43,050,371 Paramount
4 28 Days 7,301,753 10,310,672 -29.2 2,523 2 2,894 22,036,686 Sony
5 Keeping the Faith 7,233,699 8,078,671 -10.5 2,158 2 3,352 18,635,886 Buena Vista
6 Erin Brockovich 5,500,790 7,030,315 -21.8 3,056 6 1,800 107,386,500 Universal
7 The Road to El Dorado 5,225,727 6,156,329 -15.1 3,170 4 1,648 41,916,784 DreamWorks
8 Return to Me 3,961,664 5,008,744 -20.9 2,320 3 1,708 21,199,903 MGM/UA
9 Final Destination 2,761,900 3,049,212 -9.4 1,305 6 2,116 42,598,890 New Line
10 The Skulls 2,712,065 4,023,025 -32.6 2,047 4 1,325 30,334,925 Universal
11 American Psycho 2,705,028 4,961,015 -45.5 1,242 2 2,178 9,728,053 Lions Gate
12 Gossip 2,321,729 1,525 1 1,522 2,321,729 Warner Bros.
13 High Fidelity 2,251,076 2,685,024 -16.2 1,231 4 1,829 20,133,817 Buena Vista
14 Fantasia 2000 1,939,997 1,494,303 29.8 53 17 36,604 45,795,638 Buena Vista
15 Romeo Must Die 1,542,329 2,672,609 -42.3 1,439 5 1,072 52,376,839 Warner Bros.
16 American Beauty 1,357,651 1,966,674 -31.0 1,130 32 1,201 126,956,565 DreamWorks
17 Where the Money Is 1,220,356 2,513,530 -51.4 1,535 2 795 4,635,190 USA Films
18 Ready to Rumble 994,671 2,685,718 -63.0 1,672 3 595 11,308,097 Warner Bros.
19 My Dog Skip 594,731 572,230 3.9 937 15 635 32,407,791 Warner Bros.
20 Mission to Mars 384,427 673,661 -42.9 508 7 757 58,789,039 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 50,235,493 $ 42,509,614 18.2
Top 10 70,397,639 62,237,328 13.1
Top 20 85,709,634 76,614,723 11.9

Last Updated : April 23 at 9:30PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya