Weekend Box Office (May 17 - 19, 2002)

THIS WEEKEND George Lucas took his usual place at the top of the box office charts with the much-hyped debut of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones which pushed a still-strong Spider-Man to the runnerup spot in its third weekend. Together, the pair of juggernauts took control of an astonishing $125M worth of ticket sales and, more importantly, helped the marketplace to expand as most holdovers witnessed low-to-medium declines.

After three years of anticipation, Star Wars fans lined up to see Attack of the Clones, the latest tale in the wildly popular sci-fi series, and spent an eye-popping $80,027,814 over the Friday-to-Sunday opening period, according to final studio figures. The final official gross released by Fox on Monday afternoon was over $6M less than the $86.15M estimate the studio released on Sunday morning.

The Jedi tale premiered on Thursday with $30,141,417 giving Episode II a mammoth $110,169,231 in only four days of release. Playing in 3,161 theaters, the PG-rated space adventure averaged a scorching $25,317 over three days. Friday slid 19% from Thursday with $24,404,757, Saturday rose 28% to $31,253,618 and Sunday dropped 22% to $24,369,439.

Only two films have enjoyed stronger opening weekends - Spider-Man with $114.8M and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with $90.3M. However both of those blockbusters debuted on a Friday whereas Episode II launched on a Thursday spreading out the audience over four days instead of three. Plus, Clones opened with less prints playing on an estimated 6,000 total screens. By comparison, Spider-Man bowed in 3,615 locations with about 7,500 prints while Harry Potter debuted in 3,672 sites with around 8,100 total screens.

On a per-theater basis, Episode II's opening weekend average surpassed Harry Potter's $24,590 but trailed Spider-Man's remarkable $31,769. The webslinger, in addition to opening on a Friday, faced much less competition in its bow two weeks ago with The Scorpion King taking in just $9M in second place. Clones attacked during a frame when Spider-Man was busy gobbling up a towering $45M. Because of the many differences, comparing the opening weekends of Star Wars Episode II and Spider-Man becomes an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Budgeted at an estimated $115M, Attack of the Clones is the fifth film produced in the lucrative franchise and tells the story of a grown-up Anakin Skywalker's introduction to the dark side of the Force. With Lucas penning the story and directing once again, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson reprised their roles from Episode I and were joined by Hayden Christensen playing the future Darth Vader. Reviews were mixed with the acting and dialogue criticized and the special effects and battle scenes praised. Ticket buyers, however, were quite enthusiastic as those polled by CinemaScore.com gave the film an overall A- grade with those under 21 giving an A grade.

The opening of Episode II outperformed the 1999 launch of Star Wars Episode I : The Phantom Menace. That Jedi prequel debuted on a Wednesday with a five-day haul of $105.7M with $64.8M of that generated over the traditional Friday-to-Sunday portion. Episode I also bowed on the weekend before the busy Memorial Day weekend frame and went on to gross $431.1M domestically and $923M worldwide.

Twentieth Century Fox unleashed Episode II in 74 territories over the weekend in an unprecented global release. "We brought in about $66.7M overseas over various three-day and four-day weekends, depending on the market," noted Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder. That gives Yoda and his comrades a jaw-dropping $177M in global grosses in its first four days. Among the territories where the blockbuster unspooled this weekend were 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, July 4 in Mexico and Argentina, July 5 in Brazil and South Korea, and July 13 in Japan.

Despite the mammoth opening of Episode II, box office behemoth Spider-Man continued to flex its muscles and slid only 37% to $45M giving the Sam Raimi-directed film the largest third-weekend gross in box office history. Titanic held that record for over four years with a stellar $33.3M in its third frame. With amazing legs, Spider-Man has now collected an unbelieveable $285.6M in only 17 days becoming the highest-grossing title in the history of Sony Pictures surpassing the $250.1M of 1997's Men in Black.

Averaging a muscular $12,458 from 3,615 theaters, the Marvel comic book hero now ranks 14th on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters and is set to crack the top ten next weekend. Spider-Man's powerful word-of-mouth, broad fan base, and universal appeal have made it the fastest grossing film in box office history crossing the $250M in 15 days and the $275M mark in 17 days - both new records. The previous benchmarks were held by Star Wars Episode I with 19 days and 24 days, respectively. At its current pace, the $300M and $400M hurdles should both be passed by the webslinger.

Only long-term strength and repeat business will decide if Spider-Man or Star Wars Episode II will be the bigger megablockbuster. Regardless, the summer box office could not have asked for a more lethal one-two punch to launch the season. The best news this weekend was that the other films in the marketplace did not get crushed by these two 800-pound gorillas. Instead, most titles saw declines of less than 35% as more consumers entered the marketplace and those sold out of the big-ticket items spent their money elsewhere.

Fox's steamy adultery thriller Unfaithful posted a strong second weekend slipping just 29% to an estimated $10M. After ten days, the Richard Gere-Diane Lane thriller has grossed $29.5M and held up quite well against the arrival of both the juggernaut Star Wars Episode II and About A Boy which directly targeted Unfaithful's primary audience of adult women.

Hugh Grant's About A Boy made a promising debut in fourth place collecting $8.6M while playing in just 1,207 theaters. Averaging a robust $7,090 per theater, the Universal release established itself as an alternative viewing option for adults looking to get away from light sabers and green goblins. Directed by Paul and Chris Weitz, the PG-13 film stars Grant as a London playboy who befriends a young boy during his quest to date single mothers. About A Boy was based on the best-selling British novel and topped the U.K. box office for three weeks.

Adult women were by and large the biggest portion of the audience. Females made up 69% of the crowd and 72% were over the age of 30, according to studio exit polls. Critics and moviegoers both embraced the $27M Working Title production as most reviews were very favorable and patrons polled by CinemaScore.com gave the picture a B+. Hoping to capitalize on positive word-of-mouth, Universal is expanding About A Boy next weekend into an additional 400 or so theaters.

Sony's $13M teen comedy The New Guy dropped only 28% in its second weekend and took in $6.5M. The PG-13 film has grossed $17.3M in ten days and seems headed for about $35M.

Paramount's road rage thriller Changing Lanes continued its durable run decelerating just 19% to $3.1M for a $61.6M total. The Rock was hardest hit by the arrival of Star Wars Episode II as the wrestler's action-adventure The Scorpion King tumbled 41% to $2.9M giving the Universal franchise flick $85.2M to date.

Disney's baseball drama The Rookie and the Warner Bros. crime pic Murder by Numbers both held up well taking in weekend grosses of $1.7M each. Dennis Quaid's G-rated film declined 34% and upped its cume to an impressive $70.5M while Sandra Bullock's thriller eased 31% and has taken in $29.9M thus far.

Inching up into the top ten for the first time was the independent hit comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding which collected $1.1M from only 275 theaters for a solid $4,128 average in its fifth weekend. The IFC Films release has so far grossed a terrific $5.7M from its limited release and is the latest in a series of ethnic films to win over audiences at the box office this year following Monsoon Wedding and Y Tu Mama Tambien.

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox's blockbuster toon Ice Age fell 33% in its tenth session to $1.1M for a spectacular $172.4M cume. Budgeted at $58M, the prehistoric comedy should end its domestic run with about $175M. Jodie Foster's Panic Room dropped 40% to $906,698 in its eighth weekend pushing its tally to $94.4M. The $48M Sony release looks to lock up around $96M overall. Fox's Angelina Jolie dramedy Life or Something Like It crumbled 71% to $410,444 in its fourth frame giving it a disappointing $14M to date.

The top ten films grossed $160.7M which was up 70% from last year when Shrek opened at number one with $42.3M; and up 62% from 2000 when Dinosaur debuted in the top spot with $38.9M.

Compared to projections, Star Wars Episode II opened close to my three-day forecast of $85M. About A Boy was on target with my $8M prediction.

Special notice to readers from Australia and New Zealand.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Star Wars vs. Spider-Man. In last week's survey, readers were asked to guess the four-day opening weekend gross for Star Wars Episode II. Of 4,188 responses, 26% said Under $100M, 31% correctly thought $100-115M, 22% predicted $115-130M, and 20% guessed Over $130M.

For a review of Star Wars Episode II visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Enough, Insomnia, and Spirit all open over Memorial Day weekend.

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

# Title May 17 - 19 May 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Star Wars Episode II $ 80,027,814 3,161 1 $ 25,317 $ 110,169,231 Fox
2 Spider-Man 45,036,912 71,417,527 -36.9 3,615 3 12,458 285,573,668 Sony
3 Unfaithful 10,013,104 14,065,277 -28.8 2,624 2 3,816 29,535,202 Fox
4 About A Boy 8,557,630 1,207 1 7,090 8,557,630 Universal
5 The New Guy 6,478,078 9,007,833 -28.1 2,687 2 2,411 17,305,157 Sony
6 Changing Lanes 3,106,537 3,815,035 -18.6 2,158 6 1,440 61,563,318 Paramount
7 The Scorpion King 2,912,675 4,925,070 -40.9 2,555 5 1,140 85,191,780 Universal
8 The Rookie 1,727,205 2,626,800 -34.2 1,849 8 934 70,510,783 Buena Vista
9 Murder By Numbers 1,672,454 2,427,318 -31.1 1,580 5 1,059 29,911,694 Warner Bros.
10 My Big Fat Greek Wedding 1,135,207 1,262,562 -10.1 275 5 4,128 5,669,706 IFC Films
11 Ice Age 1,057,726 1,576,006 -32.9 1,180 10 896 172,369,005 Fox
12 Panic Room 906,698 1,505,704 -39.8 937 8 968 94,427,638 Sony
13 High Crimes 651,945 1,077,459 -39.5 680 7 959 40,222,825 Fox
14 Y Tu Mama Tambien 597,585 615,059 -2.8 271 10 2,205 10,235,525 IFC Films
15 Hollywood Ending 536,430 1,096,353 -51.1 605 3 887 4,461,634 DreamWorks
16 Monsoon Wedding 460,546 543,361 -15.2 242 13 1,903 10,458,255 USA Films
17 Deuce's Wild 425,191 1,244,007 -65.8 757 3 562 5,803,814 MGM
18 The Lord of the Rings 411,515 502,487 -18.1 418 22 984 310,078,970 New Line
19 Life or Something Like It 410,444 1,410,110 -70.9 649 4 632 14,049,397 Fox
20 Jason X 387,119 932,682 -58.5 609 4 636 12,376,270 New Line
Top 5 $ 150,113,538 $ 103,230,742 45.4
Top 10 160,667,616 112,776,680 42.5
Top 20 166,512,815 121,146,091 37.4
Top 20 vs. 2001 166,512,815 98,858,560 68.4

Last Updated : May 20, 2002 at 8:30PM EDT