Weekend Box Office (May 5 - 7, 2000)

*** Summer 2000 Box Office Preview ***

THIS WEEKEND DreamWorks brought honor and courage to the box office with its ancient Roman action film Gladiator which collected grosses maximus from moviegoers eager to give the summer movie season an early start. The weekend's other new release I Dreamed of Africa suffered a drowsy ninth place finish while holdovers experienced mostly moderate declines in a marketplace dominated by one lone warrior.

Conquering the box office in a one-sided battle, Ridley Scott's epic adventure Gladiator triumphed with a muscular $34.8M opening, according to final studio figures, surging over $2M higher than originally estimated. Starring Oscar-nominated actor Russell Crowe, the Roman Empire saga launched ultrawide in MMCMXXXVIII coliseums and averaged a mighty $11,851 per theater. Carrying a hefty production budget of $103M, Gladiator was co-financed by DreamWorks and Universal with the former handling the domestic release. The story focuses on the doublecrossed army general Maximus who returns to Rome as a warrior seeking revenge on the Emperor who killed his wife and son. Critics were mostly supportive of the latest feature from the director of Alien and Blade Runner.

Gladiator inched ahead of Scream 3's $34.7M premiere to become the biggest opening of 2000 A.D. and became the best debut in the young life of DreamWorks beating last summer's The Haunting which opened with $33.4M. Given the fact that Gladiator is rated R and runs longer than two and a half hours, its bow is quite impressive as the second-century epic absorbed more ticket sales than the next seven films combined. Studio distribution head Jim Tharp initially went with a more conservative $32.7M weekend estimate anticipating a big hit on Sunday due to the NBA playoffs but the dent was much less than expected. Moviegoers hungry for the new wave of big-budget summer blockbusters lined up for Gladiator which jumpstarted the year's busiest season by beating the other event pics to the marketplace.

Gladiator also marched into battle in Australia over the weekend and generated explosive results. With homegrown star Russell Crowe leading the charge, Universal had no worries opening Down Under and reported that the Thursday-to-Sunday frame hit $3.5M (in US currency) making it the fourth largest opening in Australian box office history after The Phantom Menace, Independence Day, and Men in Black. Gladiator invades the United Kingdom next weekend and advances across much of continental Europe later in May.

After two weeks atop the box office waters, the submarine actioner U-571 submerged 36% to $7.8M settling for second place. Universal's World War II-set picture has experienced average declines and has captured $49.6M in 17 days. Look for U-571 to finish its domestic voyage in the vicinity of $70M.

Falling 37% in its sophomore effort, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas placed third with $6.6M giving the kidpic $18.6M in ten days. Universal's $58M attempt at continuing a franchise will need to perform much better on video in order to break even. Posting sluggish midweek grosses, The Flintstones prequel seems set to conclude with roughly $35M.

The time-shifting thriller Frequency enjoyed the best hold of any picture in the top ten dipping just 28% to $6.5M. After ten days, the $22M New Line release has tuned into $17.9M and could find its way to $35-40M.

Fox's teen mother story Where the Heart Is placed fifth with $5.1M in its second weekend slipping a moderate 38% in the process. With $15.7M in the womb, the Natalie Portman starrer should eventually deliver $25-30M.

Love and Basketball scored $3.1M, off 39%, and brought its take to $19.6M in 17 days. Edward Norton's directorial debut Keeping the Faith took in $2.8M for seventh place and raised its sum to $29.5M. Military thriller Rules of Engagement tumbled 47% to a weekend gross of $2.4M giving Paramount's two-time chart leader $54.1M in the bank.

Absent from theaters since winning an Oscar for 1997's crime thriller L.A. Confidential, Kim Basinger made a quiet return with the wildlife drama I Dreamed of Africa which was trampled in its debut with only $2.4M. Sony opened the $34M film wide in 2,112 locations but averaged a dismal $1,142 per site. I Dreamed of Africa delivered one of the worst debuts ever for a movie launching in over 2,000 theaters.

Rounding out the top ten was Sandra Bullock's latest entry, the romantic comedy 28 Days, which fell 40% to $2.35M and has reached $32M.

After seven weeks of top ten bliss, Erin Brockovich and Final Destination dropped off the list. Julia Roberts' spring blockbuster grossed $2.2M lifting its cume to $116M. The $52M Universal/Sony co-production should eventually reach about $120M which would make it the fourth biggest domestic hit for the popular actress. Overseas, Erin Brockovich has taken in more than $70M already with many major markets still to come.

New Line's horror pic Final Destination has been the surprise sleeper of the spring season posting remarkably low declines every week of its release. The teen suspense hit scared up $1.6M boosting its total to $48.2M. Final Destination could wind up with a domestic take of $50-55M. New Line has already discussed developing a sequel to the profitable title.

Compared to projections, Gladiator opened right on target with my $35M forecast while I Dreamed of Africa failed to reach my $5M prediction.

Now online is the Summer 2000 Box Office Preview which examines all the major releases and their chances with ticket buyers this summer.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Battlefield Earth star John Travolta. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether box office performance affects their overall desire to see a movie. Of 1,411 responses, 11% said Definitely, 16% voted Very Much, 47% stated Somewhat, and 26% said Not At All.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind report which looks at the biggest debuts in May during the last ten years. For a review of Gladiator visit The Chief Report.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $74M which was down 3% from last year when The Mummy stormed into the number one spot with $43.4M, but up 10% from 1998 when Deep Impact debuted on top with a massive $41.2M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Battlefield Earth tries to steal Gladiator's crown.

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

# Title May 5 - 7 Apr. 28 - 30 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Gladiator $ 34,819,017 2,938 1 $ 11,851 $ 34,819,017 DreamWorks
2 U-571 7,765,375 12,203,655 -36.4 2,701 3 2,875 49,591,290 Universal
3 The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas 6,635,925 10,518,435 -36.9 3,051 2 2,175 18,644,030 Universal
4 Frequency 6,513,499 9,025,584 -27.8 2,631 2 2,476 17,854,723 New Line
5 Where the Heart Is 5,113,106 8,292,939 -38.3 2,439 2 2,096 15,735,675 Fox
6 Love and Basketball 3,135,694 5,102,637 -38.5 1,192 3 2,631 19,590,129 New Line
7 Keeping the Faith 2,780,907 4,451,562 -37.5 2,014 4 1,381 29,472,126 Buena Vista
8 Rules of Engagement 2,445,265 4,643,307 -47.3 2,261 5 1,081 54,075,079 Paramount
9 I Dreamed of Africa 2,411,445 2,112 1 1,142 2,411,445 Sony
10 28 Days 2,354,619 4,001,803 -41.2 2,413 4 976 32,037,145 Sony
11 Erin Brockovich 2,184,770 3,622,105 -39.7 1,942 8 1,125 116,032,450 Universal
12 Final Destination 1,630,639 2,351,452 -30.7 1,103 8 1,478 48,155,817 New Line
13 Return to Me 1,510,815 2,292,245 -34.1 1,703 5 887 27,311,014 MGM/UA
14 The Road to El Dorado 907,993 2,005,892 -54.7 1,528 6 594 47,774,961 DreamWorks
15 High Fidelity 749,686 1,267,055 -40.8 552 6 1,358 23,283,093 Buena Vista
16 The Skulls 686,510 1,259,685 -45.5 869 6 790 33,572,585 Universal
17 Michael Jordan to the MAX 578,141 41 1 14,101 578,141 Giant
18 Romeo Must Die 447,176 807,871 -44.6 453 7 987 54,377,465 Warner Bros.
19 American Psycho 442,960 1,340,015 -66.9 501 4 884 13,216,040 Lions Gate
20 American Beauty 429,026 670,739 -36.0 603 34 711 128,840,091 DreamWorks
Top 5 $ 60,846,922 $ 45,143,250 34.8
Top 10 73,974,852 64,213,479 15.2
Top 20 83,542,568 77,873,411 7.3

Last Updated : May 8 at 9:30PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya