Weekend Box Office (May 17 - 19, 2002)

THIS WEEKEND Millions of moviegoers across the planet will take a trip to a galaxy far, far away with today's heavily anticipated launch of Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones which aims to conquer the box office in 74 countries this weekend and attempts to set some records in the process. The George Lucas film takes on the reigning hero of the day, Spider-Man, which has already rewritten the record books in the last two weeks spinning its web to the tune of over $236M. The proven Star Wars fan base, though, will be out in full force this weekend eagerly awaiting the next chapter in the tale of Anakin Skywalker and his descent into the dark side.

Set a decade after Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Clones finds a grown Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) teaming with his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) on a mission to protect Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) after an attempt is made on her life. Along the way, Skywalker and Amidala develop romantic feelings for each other while Kenobi discovers that a member of the Jedi Council has secretly ordered an army of clones. As if following orders given in a Star Wars suggestion box, the PG-rated Episode II sees a significant reduction in the role of Jar Jar Binks and ups the screen time for Jedi masters Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Yoda.

Fox is unleashing Attack of the Clones in an unprecedented simultaneous release in dozens of territories this weekend. In addition to the United States and Canada, Episode II attacks almost all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and most of Southeast Asia. Upcoming launches elsewhere include June 7 in India, June 21 in South Africa, June 26 in Egypt, July 4 in Mexico and Argentina, July 5 in Brazil and South Korea, July 13 in Japan. Digital presentations will be made in over 94 theaters around the world and will give fans a crystal clear look at a motion picture shot entirely with digital cameras.

With a storyline that is far more connected to the original trilogy than Episode I, Star Wars fans, especially older ones, should find themselves enjoying the new saga more than Menace. Repeat business from that segment of the audience should therefore be stronger. Most reviews have been unfavorable but that should not stop the fans from flocking to the multiplexes to see Clones at least once. Critics were not all that kind to Episode I either but that did not stop the Darth Maul tale from grossing $431.1M domestically and a stellar $923M worldwide. Sure Jedi wannabes will have to sit through bad acting, corny dialogue, and a cheesy love story, but the impressive battle scenes, dazzling special effects, and essential Star Wars plot points will keep moviegoers coming back for more.

Twentieth Century Fox will not be able to avoid the constant box office comparisons the world will make between Episode II and both Episode I and Spider-Man. Working in Phantom Menace's favor was a 16-year wait that built up a huge fanatical craze in 1999. Clones also has audiences waiting in lines for weeks but the three-year delay has been more bareable. Working in Episode II's favor, though, will be higher ticket prices, more total screens, and early buzz that the film is superior to the last installment.

Comparing the opening weekend grosses of Episode II and Spider-Man will be like comparing apples to oranges though. The Jedi flick opens on a Thursday and will divert business from die-hard fans onto a weekday and away from the traditional Friday-to-Sunday period used by the industry for comparisons. Plus Episode II is opening with about 1,500 fewer prints - 6,000 compared to the comic book hero's 7,500. In addition, Spider-Man faced no major competition in its opening frame. Clones will have to face a lethal third frame of the wallcrawler which is set to gross $35-40M on its own. Still, Episode II's four-day tally could match or exceed Spider-Man's record three-day haul of $114.8M.

With Clones' Thursday debut, the four-day weekend must be broken down into two components - the Thursday opening day and the Friday-to-Sunday weekend frame. Episode I opened on Wednesday, May 19, 1999 and grossed a then-record-breaking $28.5M in its first official day. That figure included grosses from all the 12:01am and early morning screenings set up to accommodate the intense demand. Episode II's opening Thursday will play out the same way since it includes the normal Thursday grosses plus the Wednesday night midnight screenings too. Phantom Menace launched in 2,970 theaters with approximately 5,500 total prints while Attack of the Clones is premiering in 3,161 locations with about 6,000 total screens. That gives Episode II the advantage of having roughly 200 more theaters and 500 more prints, plus three years of ticket price increases. Episode I's opening day averaged nearly $5,250 per print. Adjust for higher ticket prices and the same attendance at a $6,000 average would deliver an opening day salvo in the neighborhood of $36M.

The three-day weekend figure, on the other hand, is not as easy to compare to Phantom Menace or Spider-Man as those pictures bowed on a Wednesday and Friday, respectively. For Menace, the largest single-day gross of its entire theatrical run came on opening day. The same could result for Clones. After Menace's sizzling debut, the prequel plunged 57% to $12.3M on Thursday before climbing back to a $64.8M three-day weekend take. By the time Friday arrived, it had burned through two days of business whereas Clones will only have gone through one day by Friday thus concentrating the audience over a smaller span of time. Menace's weekend per-print average of $11,800 adjusted for today's prices would equal around $13,500 which is still below Spider-Man's opening weekend per-print average of $15,300. With Episode II traffic more concentrated over the weekend, and the overall marketplace being more electrified than in 1999, the Jedi picture's opening weekend per-print average could rival that of the webslinger.

Though entering the megaplexes with 1,500 fewer screens, Star Wars Episode II with its massively loyal fan following could generate a per-print average over its three-day debut frame that challenges Spider-Man's. A $14,200 print average would allow Attack of the Clones to collect a weekend gross in the vicinity of $85M. Add in a powerful Thursday launch and the George Lucas space epic may explode with a four-day haul of $121M. And with the holiday weekend falling on the film's second frame, Episode II could approach $250M by Memorial Day. Begun...the Clone Wars have!

Offering an alternative to all the Jedi madness, Universal releases the British hit comedy About A Boy on Friday hoping to attract adults. Directed by Paul and Chris Weitz (American Pie, Down to Earth), the PG-13 film stars Hugh Grant as a wealthy and self-absorbed London playboy who bonds with a 12-year-old boy while trying to pick up single mothers at support meetings. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) and Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) co-star. About A Boy has topped the box office in the United Kingdom for the last three weeks grossing $16M to date on its home turf. Now, the Four Weddings and a Funeral star will test his starpower in the colonies.

About A Boy shares some similarities with last year's British smash Bridget Jones's Dairy (which also starred Grant) in that it is adapted from a best-selling novel and will open with a medium-size release followed by an expansion on the second weekend which hopes to benefit from positive word-of-mouth. Diary opened last April with $10.7M from 1,611 theaters for a sturdy $6,663 average and widened to 2,221 locations on the second weekend grossing $10.2M for a $4,585 average. Universal is not being as aggressive and will unleash About A Boy in about 1,200 theaters this weekend with an extra 500 playdates being added next weekend for the Memorial Day holiday.

Adults looking to get away from light sabers and webslinging are the target audience and the only other major choice for them is the adultery drama Unfaithful which has posted solid results thus far. About A Boy will probably open below the level of Diary since its source material is less known and it bows in 400 fewer theaters. Grant has had recent hits with both Diary and Notting Hill but this time he steps up to the plate by himself as the only box office star of the cast. Reviews have been favorable but television spots fail to demonstrate how amusing the film really is. Entering the marketplace in the shadow of two juggernauts, About A Boy should enjoy a solid opening this weekend with about $8M in ticket sales. Long-term prospects seem bright as the next adult comedy does not arrive until June 7 when Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, another book-turned-film, hits theaters.

After two high-flying weeks at number one, Spider-Man will slide down and give away upside down kisses in second place. With moviegoers turning their attention away from the Green Goblin and towards a diminutive green Jedi, a sizable decline for Spider-Man should result. Sony's record-busting franchise film delivered a spectacular $71.4M sophomore frame last weekend declining only 38% from its gargantuan debut. However, the tables have turned for the webslinger during the week as sales have slumped compared to week-ago numbers. Monday saw a $5.2M take, down 53% from the previous Monday, while Tuesday took in $4.5M, or 55% less than the same day last week.

Spider-Man looks to go into its third weekend with about $240M, but Star Wars Episode II should provide stiff competition for ticket dollars beginning on Thursday. A 45% fall would give Spider-Man roughly $39M for the weekend and $279M overall which would still put it at number 15 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters after only 17 days.

The Richard Gere-Diane Lane erotic thriller Unfaithful opened well last weekend and has held up quite nicely during the week despite weak exit poll results. About A Boy will give the Fox release direct competition for mature adults. A 40% decline would give Unfaithful $8.5M for the weekend and $28M to date. The weekend's other sophomore, Sony's high school laugher The New Guy, should fall 45% to about $5M giving it a ten-day cume of $16M.

Be sure to read the annual Summer Box Office Preview.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Spider-Man vs. Star Wars Episode II. For a review of Spider-Man visit The Chief Report.

LAST YEAR DreamWorks enjoyed the biggest opening in company history with the $42.3M bow of the animated blockbuster Shrek. Also generating the second largest debut for an animated film, the fairy tale toon thrived at the box office with an eventual $267.7M domestic haul making it the highest-grossing film of 2001 until Harry Potter arrived at the end of the year. Stepping back to second place was two-time champ The Mummy Returns which dropped 39% to an estimated $20.4M. A Knight's Tale followed in third with $10.4M in its sophomore joust. The Jennifer Lopez thriller Angel Eyes premiered in fourth with $9.2M while Bridget Jones's Diary rounded out the top five with $3.7M in its sixth weekend.

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Last Updated : May 16, 2002 at 2:00AM EDT