Weekend Box Office (May 7 - 9, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Summer got off to a frightful start as Universal's monster mash Van Helsing debuted in theaters across much of the world and opened with a global gross of $105M, half of which came from North American moviegoers. On the other end of the spectrum, audiences ignored the new comedy New York Minute from the Olsen twins leaving it with an inauspicious fourth-place bow. Although the marketplace was up versus last weekend, overall sales were certainly not at one of the highest points of the year which usually is typical of the first weekend of May.

Fighting off all sorts of devilish ghouls, Tony nominee Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale punched up the second biggest opening weekend of the year with Van Helsing which grossed $51.7M from theaters across the United States and Canada, according to final studio figures, to kick off the summer movie season. Playing in 3,575 theaters, the PG-13 title averaged a potent $14,475 per venue. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, Van Helsing finds the Australian actor and British actress playing monster hunters who take on Count Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein's monster in late-nineteenth century Transylvania. Only The Passion of the Christ delivered a more heavenly debut this year with its $83.8M three-day and $125.2M five-day bows.

Critics were mostly appalled by the $160M effects-heavy event film, but moviegoers paid no heed and lined up anyway. Reactions from the public have been generally positive with the average grade for the fright flick on Yahoo Movies being a decent B from more than 8,000 users. The monster pic's bow came in higher than 1999's The Mummy which also opened during the first weekend of May with $43.4M, but below the $68.1M launch of 2001's The Mummy Returns. Both of those Brendan Fraser blockbusters were helmed by Sommers and went on to become gigantic successes in the worldwide theatrical and video markets.

According to studio data, males accounted for 58% of the audience while those 25 and older made up 54% of the crowd. Friday, Van Helsing opened with $19.5M (including Thursday's midnight previews), Saturday saw sales inch up just 2% to $19.8M, and Sunday dropped 37% to $12.4M.

Overseas, Van Helsing opened in more than 40 markets and scored brawny number-one debuts in all territories leading to an international opening weekend estimate of $53M from 5,000 screens including grosses beginning on Wednesday where it opened in some countries. In most markets, the creature feature started off bigger than both Mummy pictures which each went on to collect over $400M worldwide. Notable openings included $9.7M from 460 theaters in the U.K., $7.6M from 735 in Germany, $5.1M from 460 in Spain, $4.1M from 632 in France, $3.6M from 226 in Australia, and $2.9M from 344 in Mexico. Van Helsing looks to topple the $200M global mark as early as next week.

Following its surprisingly ferocious top spot debut, Paramount's Mean Girls enjoyed a decent hold dipping 44% to $13.7M in its sophomore frame. With a solid $42.1M in ten days, the $17M production should find its way to a very nice $80M. Dropping 45% to third place in its third weekend was Denzel Washington's action thriller Man on Fire with $8.2M. The $70M Fox release has grossed $56.4M to date and is headed for a final tally of about $80M as well.

After a string of home video hits, the Olsen twins anchored their first theatrical motion picture release over the weekend and audiences responded with a very firm verdict - go back to the shelves of Blockbuster! New York Minute, a comedy which finds Mary-Kate and Ashley playing twin sisters on an all-day adventure in Manhattan, opened poorly in fourth place with only $6M from an ultrawide 3,006 theaters. The PG-rated film averaged an embarrassing $1,983 per location. The Warner Bros. release now officially holds the record for the worst opening weekend in history for a 3,000+ theater launch beating out The Wild Thornberrys ($6.01M in 3,012 theaters in 2002). The audience for Minute was mostly young girls.

Directed by Dennie Gordon (What A Girl Wants, Joe Dirt), Minute co-starred Eugene Levy and Andy Richter and represented an opportunity for the actress/producers to join the already-crowded teen-girl field at the multiplexes. But with the popular Mean Girls attracting more than double the audience while in its second weekend, and Jennifer Garner's 13 Going On 30 still tapping into the young female demographic, the Olsen twins had their fate sealed. Critics were also not very kind either.

Sony's 13 Going On 30 fell 41% to $5.8M and lifted its total to $42.9M. Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore followed in sixth with $3.7M for Laws of Attraction, off 45%, which has collected just $12.1M in ten days. Final grosses of $55-57M and $20-22M seem likely.

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 2 dropped 48% to $3M in its fourth attempt for a $57.8M cume. Miramax looks to take in about $65M giving the pair of Uma Thurman samurai flicks a combined take of $135M. The cloning thriller Godsend placed eighth with $3M, off 59%, leaving a $11.4M ten-day sum. Lions Gate should end up with a dismal $15-17M for the Greg Kinnear starrer.

Ben Stiller and Jack Black watched their comedy Envy tumble 59% in its second weekend to $2.5M. With a mere $10M in the bank, the DreamWorks title should fizzle to a $15M finish. Rounding out the top ten was the Disney toon Home on the Range with $1.3M, down 46%, for a $47.3M cume.

On the limited release menu, Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attraction opened the fast food documentary Super Size Me in 41 theaters and gobbled up $516,641 for a tasty $12,601 average. Directed by Morgan Spurlock, who also stars, the unrated film documents the filmmaker as he eats nothing but McDonalds food for 30 days and the effects it has on his body and life. Super Size Me won the Best Director award at Sundance earlier this year and will expand to more markets next weekend. Reviews were very positive.

Two films fell out of the top ten over the weekend. The revenge actioner The Punisher took in $1.1M, down 68%, giving the Lions Gate title $32.1M to date. A $34M final seems likely. Warner Bros. saw its canine sleuth franchise pic Scooby Doo 2 fall 56% to $1M. With a total of $81M to date, the pricey sequel should end with roughly $83M, or 46% below the $153.3M of the first Doo.

The top ten films grossed $98.7M which was down 2% from last year when X2: X-Men United remained at number one with $40M; and down 13% from 2002 when Spider-Man stayed on top with $71.4M.

Compared to projections, Van Helsing opened close to my $55M forecast while New York Minute bowed to less than half of my $14M prediction.

In last week's reader survey, readers were asked whether Van Helsing would open with more or less than the $68.1M debut of The Mummy Returns. Of 2,869 responses, 57% said More while 43% correctly guessed Less.

Be sure to read BoxOfficeGuru.com's Seventh Annual Summer Box Office Preview.

For a review of Van Helsing visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Troy and Breakin' All the Rules both open.

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

# Title May 7 - 9 Apr 30 - May 2 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Van Helsing $ 51,748,040 3,575 1 $ 14,475 $ 51,748,040 Universal
2 Mean Girls 13,676,552 24,432,195 -44.0 2,972 2 4,602 42,073,762 Paramount
3 Man on Fire 8,235,535 15,012,405 -45.1 2,846 3 2,894 56,350,858 Fox
4 New York Minute 5,962,106 3,006 1 1,983 5,962,106 Warner Bros.
5 13 Going On 30 5,816,841 9,876,246 -41.1 3,158 3 1,842 42,880,123 Sony
6 Laws of Attraction 3,678,133 6,728,905 -45.3 2,449 2 1,502 12,091,749 New Line
7 Kill Bill Vol.2 3,022,006 5,858,536 -48.4 1,952 4 1,548 57,791,775 Miramax
8 Godsend 2,793,785 6,800,617 -58.9 2,323 2 1,203 11,366,944 Lions Gate
9 Envy 2,506,209 6,160,886 -59.3 2,445 2 1,025 9,967,996 DreamWorks
10 Home on the Range 1,253,738 2,306,510 -45.6 1,356 6 925 47,260,250 Buena Vista
11 The Punisher 1,136,409 3,499,450 -67.5 1,435 4 792 32,081,125 Lions Gate
12 Scooby Doo 2 1,009,389 2,289,484 -55.9 1,309 7 771 81,038,467 Warner Bros.
13 Johnson Family Vacation 1,006,728 1,950,561 -48.4 818 5 1,231 28,808,339 Fox Searchlight
14 Ella Enchanted 839,510 1,766,395 -52.5 1,450 5 579 20,878,875 Miramax
15 The Passion of the Christ 785,369 1,407,651 -44.2 1,423 11 552 368,027,248 NewMarket
16 Eternal Sunshine 565,671 807,263 -29.9 339 7 1,669 31,721,817 Focus
17 Hellboy 548,357 1,845,434 -70.3 865 6 634 58,576,484 Sony
18 Walking Tall 546,422 1,548,273 -64.7 878 6 622 43,752,098 MGM
19 Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius 528,528 1,233,297 -57.1 986 2 536 2,191,499 Film Foundry
20 Super Size Me 516,641 41 1 12,601 516,641 Samuel Goldwyn
Top 5 $ 85,439,074 $ 62,850,368 35.9
Top 10 98,692,945 82,965,234 19.0
Top 20 106,175,969 95,714,938 10.9
Top 20 vs. 2003 106,175,969 107,080,859 -0.8

Last Updated : May 10, 2004 at 8:00PM EDT

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm ET on CNNfn.