Weekend Box Office (July 25 - 27, 2003)

THIS WEEKEND As expected, an action sequel opened at number one, however it was the family of crimefighters in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over that topped the charts and not the video game-inspired heroine of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which settled for a disappointing fourth-place launch. Meanwhile, the horse racing drama Seabiscuit delivered a strong debut despite playing in a thousand less locations and led all wide releases with its solid per-theater average. The overall marketplace sizzled as five films grossed over $20M each.over the weekend for the first time in box office history. The trio of new releases allowed the top ten to swell to its highest level in seven weeks.

Soaring above the competition, the family adventure sequel Spy Kids 3-D captured the top spot with $33.4M, according to final studio figures, giving Miramax its first number one bow in over two years and Sylvester Stallone the largest opening weekend of his thirty-year career. The PG-rated film invaded 3,344 theaters and averaged a robust $9,993 per venue. Reuniting filmmaker Robert Rodriguez with Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, and Ricardo Montalban, the kidpic offered today's children their first 3-D experience and attracted a bigger opening than either of the first two Spy Kids flicks which launched with $26.5M and $16.7M, respectively.

With a reported production budget of $40M, Spy Kids 3-D was a relatively low-cost picture by summer blockbuster standards and should become another profitable installment in the series. Most industry expectaions were in the high teens going into the weekend which once again proves how unreliable pre-release tracking can be for kids movies.

Holding steady at number two was Disney's swashbuckling sensation Pirates of the Caribbean which made off with another $23.1M in its third weekend. Dropping only 32%, the PG-13 adventure has raised its 19-day cume to a towering $176.8M and should become the fifth $200M+ blockbuster of the summer sometime next weekend.

After arresting the top spot last weekend, Sony's action sequel Bad Boys II fell an understandable 53% to $22.1M raising its ten-day total to $88.5M. The big-budget Martin Lawrence-Will Smith vehicle looks to reach $135-140M. By surpassing the $65.8M gross of its 1995 original, Bad Boys II became the first summer sequel to outperform its predecessor since The Matrix Reloaded.

Paramount's big summer tentpole Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life opened in fourth place attracting less than half of the opening weekend audience of its 2001 predecessor. The Angelina Jolie sequel collected $21.8M from an ultrawide 3,222 theaters for a decent, but not lively, average of $6,761. The first Tomb Raider broke the record for a debut for a film with a female lead opening to $47.7M in June 2001, but excitement for a new Croft adventure has clearly declined since. Plus following on the heels of a dozen other summer action movies, moviegoers were not interested in a thirteenth one.

Directed by Jan De Bont, who took over from the first film's Simon West, Cradle skewed 52% male and 55% age 25 and older. Given how sequels of this type tend to attract a large share of their audience in the first week, it will be difficult for the $95M actioner to reach a domestic gross that matches its budget. Instead, the PG-13 sequel may find its way to about half of the first hit's $131.2M gross. That comes as disappointing news for Paramount which ranks last in market share this year among the six major studios. With underwhelming results from Star Trek: Nemesis, Rugrats Go Wild, and now Tomb Raider, the Viacom-owned studio could be running low on healthy franchises.

With every other top five release playing in over 3,000 theaters, Universal's uplifting period drama Seabiscuit galloped into only 1,989 locations and held its own grossing $20.9M generating a powerful per-theater average of $10,485 - the best in the top ten. Based on the best-selling book, the PG-13 film stars Tobey Maguire as the jockey of a 1930s race horse that beats the odds to become a champion. Reviews were mostly glowing and with no other serious films exciting adults this summer, Seabiscuit swooped in and satisfied an underserved audience looking for a quality film that was new and fresh. The acclaimed drama was produced for a pricey $85M and was split with DreamWorks which will distribute overseas.

Long-term prospects seem promising and early word-of-mouth is very positive which sets the film apart from the season's endless slate of action sequels. Universal reported that a very high 97% found the Gary Ross-directed film to be "excellent" or "very good" and that 88% would definitely recommend it. Adult women were the core audience as 79% of the crowd was over the age of 30 and 59% was female, according to studio exit polls. With its strong start, critical acclaim, and growing buzz, Seabiscuit looks to stay in the top ten for the rest of summer and will likely become a member of the $100M club.

With sequels making up half of the top ten, and taking three of the top four slots, franchise fever was still hot at the box office. Sequels have opened at number one during four of the last five weeks and should continue the trend next weekend when Universal unleashes American Wedding, the third and supposedly final chapter in the American Pie series, in over 3,000 theaters. Its competitors will include the Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck vehicle Gigli bowing in over 2,100 locations and indie hit Bend It Like Beckham which expands into over 1,000 venues.

A pair of quickly fading July titles from aging action stars followed. Sean Connery's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen grossed $5.1M, off 50%, lifting the Fox film's cume to $52.9M. Warner Bros. also collected $5.1M, down 46%, for Terminator 3 which has pushed its take to $137.5M. For Arnold Schwarzenegger, T3 has become his biggest grosser in nine years and should eventually inch past the $146.3M of 1994's True Lies to become the actor's second largest grosser ever trailing the $204.8M of 1991's T2.

The top ten's oldest fish, the Disney/Pixar smash Finding Nemo, faced tough competition from the family hit Spy Kids 3-D and witnessed the worst decline of its nine-week run dropping 40% to $4.4M. The megablockbuster toon has grossed a mammoth $313.1M and swam past the $312.9M of 1994's original run of The Lion King to become the highest-grossing animated film ever. Ticket prices, of course, have risen substantially since Simba's day nine years ago. Next month, Nemo should pass the $328.5M lifetime gross of The Lion King which includes grosses from last year's Imax run. Currently, the fish flick sits at number 12 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters closely following 2001's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring which grossed $313.4M.

Universal's British import Johnny English dropped 53% to $4.3M in its sophomore frame boosting the ten-day cume to $18.4M. Produced for $35M, the Rowan Atkinson spoof comedy should bumble its way to $30-33M adding to its blockbuster international cume of $117.3M. Rounding out the top ten was MGM's comedy sequel Legally Blonde 2 which tumbled 56% to $2.7M in its fourth frame bringing its cume to $82.2M

Three films fell from the top ten over the weekend. Crumbling 60% in its second weekend, Mandy Moore's teen drama How to Deal grossed $2.3M. Budgeted at $16M, the New Line release has taken in just $11.5M in ten days and looks to end its run quickly with a gross that should match its cost. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle also took a nosedive plunging 62% to $1.5M in its fifth weekend. The heavily-hyped Sony title, which carries an estimated production pricetag of $120M, has grossed $93.1M from North America to date and should conclude with about $96M, or 23% less than the $125.3M of the first Charlie's Angels.

Fox Searchlight made the unusual move of adding an alternate ending to its horror hit 28 Days Later this weekend and saw a slim 8% decline to $2.3M. The $8M British film has grossed $37.3M domestically and is set to end with $42-45M making it the second highest-grossing film in Searchlight history after 1997's The Full Monty which brought in $45.9M.

In limited release debuts, Miramax's controversial military drug scandel pic Buffalo Soldiers had a mediocre bow in six theaters with a gross of $30,977 for a mild $5,162 average. Acquired nearly two years ago by its distributor, the Joaquin Phoenix drama had been bumped around on the calendar a number of times and played only in New York and Los Angeles this weekend. Fox Searchlight saw weak results from its Mexican drama Lucia Lucia which took in $70,773 from 49 theaters for a poor $1,444 average.

The top ten films grossed $142.8M which was up 10% from last year when Austin Powers in Goldmember opened at number one with a July record $76.6M; and up 2% from 2001 when Planet of the Apes debuted in the top spot with a then-record $68.5M.

Compared to projections, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over nearly doubled my $17M forecast. Lara Croft opened well below my $36M prediction while Seabiscuit raced ahead of my $12M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which summer franchise will no longer be continuing. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether they thought Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life would open bigger or smaller than the first one. Of 2,751 responses, 72% correctly said Smaller while 28% thought Bigger.

For a review of The Cradle of Life visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when American Wedding and Gigli both open.

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

# Title Jul 25 - 27 Jul 18 - 20 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Spy Kids 3-D $ 33,417,739 3,344 1 $ 9,993 $ 33,417,739 Miramax
2 Pirates of the Caribbean 23,136,029 34,034,597 -32.0 3,416 3 6,773 176,838,155 Buena Vista
3 Bad Boys II 22,051,422 46,522,560 -52.6 3,202 2 6,887 88,503,074 Sony
4 Lara Croft Tomb Raider II 21,783,641 3,222 1 6,761 21,783,641 Paramount
5 Seabiscuit 20,854,735 1,989 1 10,485 20,854,735 Universal
6 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 5,070,971 10,158,545 -50.1 2,532 3 2,003 52,927,018 Fox
7 T3: Rise of the Machines 5,063,450 9,327,409 -45.7 2,660 4 1,904 137,459,813 Warner Bros.
8 Finding Nemo 4,391,650 7,275,723 -39.6 2,025 9 2,169 313,119,898 Buena Vista
9 Johnny English 4,327,130 9,134,085 -52.6 2,236 2 1,935 18,435,985 Universal
10 Legally Blonde 2 2,707,034 6,122,444 -55.8 2,120 4 1,277 82,171,969 MGM
11 28 Days Later 2,341,887 2,541,940 -7.9 915 5 2,559 37,304,321 Fox Searchlight
12 How to Deal 2,308,713 5,809,960 -60.3 2,319 2 996 11,469,731 New Line
13 Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle 1,460,418 3,811,962 -61.7 1,270 5 1,150 93,073,452 Sony
14 Whale Rider 1,085,258 1,356,525 -20.0 491 8 2,210 9,577,687 Newmarket
15 The Italian Job 1,001,029 1,726,204 -42.0 529 9 1,892 94,030,450 Paramount
16 Swimming Pool 919,103 849,166 8.2 206 4 4,462 3,756,408 Focus
17 Bruce Almighty 718,900 1,424,250 -49.5 553 10 1,300 237,531,380 Universal
18 The Hulk 518,085 1,543,240 -66.4 560 6 925 129,538,175 Universal
19 The Matrix Reloaded 511,327 717,468 -28.7 168 11 3,044 276,231,510 Warner Bros.
20 Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas 390,254 1,890,171 -79.4 865 4 451 25,260,946 DreamWorks
Top 5 $ 121,243,566 $ 109,177,196 11.1
Top 10 142,803,801 134,739,225 6.0
Top 20 154,058,775 145,856,279 5.6
Top 20 vs. 2002 154,058,775 146,976,646 4.8

Last Updated : July 28, 2003 at 5:45PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm and 9:30pm ET on CNNfn.