Weekend Box Office (July 13 - 15, 2001)

THIS WEEKEND The summer of surprises continued at the box office as Reese Witherspoon's comedy Legally Blonde debuted at number one beating out Robert De Niro's action film The Score and the big-budget sci-fi picture Final Fantasy : The Spirits Within. Last weekend's new films fell sharply in their sophomore frames as did Steven Spielberg's A.I. which plunged by nearly two-thirds.

MGM nabbed the top spot with Legally Blonde which grossed $20.4M in its opening weekend, according to final studio figures. The comedy about a young woman who follows her ex-boyfriend to law school to win him back played in 2,620 theaters and averaged an impressive $7,778. With an abundance of male-skewing action films opening recently, Legally Blonde aimed for young females and scored a surprisingly powerful debut. Budgeted at $18M, the PG-13 comedy benefited from strong sneak previews last weekend and also proved that Reese Witherspoon could open a hit film by herself.

Legally Blonde suffered a 5% dip in ticket sales on Saturday, which is not uncommon for teen flicks, but earned an A- grade from moviegoers polled by CinemaScore. "We're thrilled with this opening as it surpassed all of our expectations," remarked MGM general sales manager Erik Lomis who was anticipating a debut in the low-to-mid teens.

Robert De Niro scored the second-best opening of his career with the heist thriller The Score which debuted in the number two spot with $19M. The Paramount film led all wide releases with a sturdy $8,933 average from 2,129 theaters. Also starring Edward Norton, Marlon Brando, and Angela Bassett, The Score finds De Niro playing an aging thief who teams up with a younger crook to pull off one last heist. Reviews were generally good and audiences gave the R-rated thriller a B grade, according to CinemaScore.

Mandalay Pictures produced the movie for $68M with Paramount picking up domestic distribution for $18M plus prints and advertising costs. The Score enjoyed a healthy 23% Friday-to-Saturday increase and played to an adult audience that was somewhat more male, according to Paramount. In De Niro's career, only the comedy Meet the Parents scored a better opening bowing to a potent $28.6M last fall.

Interestingly, Robert De Niro and Reese Witherspoon also squared off at the box office with new films in March 1999, but with different results. De Niro's Analyze This debuted at number one with $18.4M, ahead of Witherspoon's Cruel Intentions which opened in second place with $13M.

Warner Bros. saw sales fall a hefty 45% for its pets-at-war movie Cats and Dogs which grossed $12M in its second weekend. After 12 days of release, the $60M effects-driven film has collected $58.9M and should reach $85-95M domestically.

Generating a disappointing fourth place finish was Sony's big-budget computer-animated feature Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within which grossed $11.4M over the weekend and $19M since its Wednesday launch. Playing in 2,649 theaters, the PG-13 film averaged a mild $4,307. Final Fantasy was produced by Square Pictures for a reported $115M and saw $45M spent on building a state-of-the-art computer animation facility in Hawaii. Sony is distributing in most markets except Japan where the video game series which inspired the movie was born.

A Sony spokesman described the opening as "a little disappointing" and stated that young males made up the core audience this weekend. The science fiction picture scored a weak C+ from moviegoers polled by CinemaScore and generated a three-day figure almost as bad as last summer's big-budget sci-fi cartoon Titan A.E. which debuted with $9.4M on its way to $22.8M. Final Fantasy is just the latest science fiction picture from the past year to stumble at the box office following Evolution, Red Planet, The 6th Day, and Battlefield Earth.

Miramax's Scary Movie 2 plunged 53% in its second weekend to $9.6M taking fifth place. Produced for $45M, the comedy sequel has grossed $53M in 12 days and should reach $70-80M. Last summer's Scary Movie, by comparison, grossed $157M. Scary Movie 2 is the latest in a string of movies this summer to drop over 50% in its second weekend. Others include Pearl Harbor, Tomb Raider, The Fast and the Furious, and A.I.

Universal's The Fast and the Furious slipped 34% to $8.1M and boosted its total to $115.6M. Dr. Dolittle 2 dipped 29% to $7.5M giving the Fox sequel a solid $84.7M to date. Final grosses for the pair should be roughly $140M and $110M respectively.

Eighth and ninth places went to Fox's Kiss of the Dragon and A.I. from Warner Bros. which both suffered horrendous dropoffs. Dragon tumbled 55% to $6M giving the Jet Li action thriller $24.1M in ten days while A.I. plunged 63% in its third weekend to $5.2M giving the Steven Spielberg drama $70.1M in 17 days. For a $100M-budgeted film directed by Spielberg and released in the middle of summer, A.I. has been a huge disappointment and looks to finish its domestic run with around $80M making it the director's lowest-grossing summer film ever.

Rounding out the top ten was Angelina Jolie's action adventure film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which grossed $3.9M putting its total to date at $122.5M. Paramount's $80M franchise picture should conclude with about $135M paving the way for future installments.

In limited release, Artisan witnessed an explosive start to its Vince Vaughn-Jon Favreau picture Made which opened exclusively in New York and Los Angeles with $118,003 from only three theaters. Averaging a scorching $39,334, the R-rated film played primarily to adults in their twenties and thirties, according to Artisan distribution president Steve Rothenberg, with men making up 60% of the turnout. Made expands into ten new markets next weekend and goes much wider on July 27.

Next weekend will see two high-profile films enter the marketplace with Universal's Jurassic Park III arriving Wednesday in about 3,300 theaters joined by Sony's Julia Roberts-starrer America's Sweethearts landing in over 2,500 locations.

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. The year's biggest blockbuster, DreamWorks' Shrek, fell 40% to $3.6M lifting its stellar cume to $247.3M. Produced for $48M, the computer-animated film should be able to reach $255-260M domestically. Overseas prospects are also quite good given strong openings in Australia and the United Kingdom. Shrek now sits at number 17 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters between Men in Black ($250.1M) and Toy Story 2 ($245.7M) and is the second biggest animated film ever, after 1994's The Lion King ($312.9M), as well as the top-grossing film in DreamWorks history.

Disney's cartoon entry to the summer box office, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, has grossed $74.7M to date. With a reported production budget of $100M, the adventure film should end its run with about $80-85M. Sony's $16M urban drama Baby Boy has taken in $24.7M thus far and looks to conclude with roughly $30M.

Compared to projections, Legally Blonde and The Score both opened better than my respective forecasts of $13M and $14M. Final Fantasy, however, debuted worse than my $23M prediction.

The top ten films grossed $103.1M which was down 27% from last year when X-Men opened in the top spot with $54.5M; but up 5% from 1999 when Eyes Wide Shut debuted at number one with $21.7M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on whether Jurassic Park III or Planet of the Apes will gross more. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of this weekend's three new releases would have the biggest opening. Of 2,110 responses, 66% said Final Fantasy, 24% correctly predicted Legally Blonde, while 10% picked The Score.

Read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the top July openings. For a review of Final Fantasy visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Jurassic Park III and America's Sweethearts debut.

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

# Title July 13 - 15 July 6 - 8 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Legally Blonde $ 20,377,426 2,620 1 $ 7,778 $ 20,377,426 MGM
2 The Score 19,018,807 2,129 1 8,933 19,018,807 Paramount
3 Cats and Dogs 12,033,590 21,707,617 -44.6 3,040 2 3,958 58,945,593 Warner Bros.
4 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 11,408,853 2,649 1 4,307 19,028,896 Sony
5 Scary Movie 2 9,554,442 20,503,356 -53.4 3,220 2 2,967 52,975,784 Miramax
6 The Fast and the Furious 8,088,195 12,283,220 -34.2 2,899 4 2,790 115,615,345 Universal
7 Dr. Dolittle 2 7,483,973 10,466,709 -28.5 2,829 4 2,645 84,734,774 Fox
8 Kiss of the Dragon 6,010,165 13,304,027 -54.8 2,100 2 2,862 24,122,981 Fox
9 A.I. : Artificial Intelligence 5,214,891 14,037,488 -62.9 2,830 3 1,843 70,097,455 Warner Bros.
10 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 3,883,274 6,727,225 -42.3 2,164 5 1,794 122,512,612 Paramount
11 Shrek 3,603,843 6,007,027 -40.0 1,767 9 2,040 247,280,575 DreamWorks
12 Atlantis: The Lost Empire 2,582,689 5,068,438 -49.0 1,702 6 1,517 74,705,532 Buena Vista
13 Baby Boy 2,108,663 4,811,917 -56.2 1,014 3 2,080 24,660,019 Sony
14 Pearl Harbor 1,968,363 3,242,099 -39.3 1,210 8 1,627 190,112,436 Buena Vista
15 Crazy/Beautiful 1,183,282 3,680,332 -67.8 1,242 3 953 15,240,856 Buena Vista
16 Swordfish 1,005,155 2,116,311 -52.5 902 6 1,114 67,675,787 Warner Bros.
17 Moulin Rouge 753,303 1,352,672 -44.3 492 9 1,531 52,467,635 Fox
18 Sexy Beast 503,863 736,683 -31.6 179 5 2,815 3,901,401 Fox Searchlight
19 The Mummy Returns 459,575 708,965 -35.2 593 11 775 200,219,380 Universal
20 Memento 321,596 490,136 -34.4 190 18 1,693 23,005,444 Newmarket
Top 5 $ 72,393,118 $ 81,835,708 -11.5
Top 10 103,073,616 114,917,024 -10.3
Top 20 117,563,948 128,731,376 -8.7
Top 20 vs. 2000 117,563,948 148,795,686 -21.0

Last Updated : July 16, 2001 at 7:30PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya