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$35 Million Paid for 'Ransom's' Weekend

Box office: Opening is second largest for a Disney film; 'Romeo & Juliet' grabs No. 2 spot.


"Ransom" took in a king's ransom at the box office over the weekend, bringing in an estimated $35 million--the second biggest opening for a Disney movie and the biggest debut ever for star Mel Gibson and director Ron Howard.

The opening was second only to "The Lion King" for Disney--despite mixed reviews. And, it is the biggest debut for a Disney action film, surpassing this summer's $100-million hit "The Rock," according to early industry estimates.

While "Ransom" seemed to captivate much of the audience interest over the weekend, two other films proved surprising as well. New Line Cinema's "Set It Off"--a bank heist action film revolving around four African American women that's been described as "Thelma & Louise" meets "Waiting to Exhale"--opened Wednesday and was earning an estimated $11.5 million in five days ($8.5 million over the weekend), putting it in third place. It appeared to steal away some of the teen mid-week audiences that flocked to second-place attraction "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet," which made about $8.8 million over the weekend.

Exhibitors and competitors noted that "Set It Off," primarily targeted to action fans and black audiences, particularly African American women, has managed a stronger crossover with white audiences, again female, than other African American films. Case in point: Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus," spun around the historic "Million Man March."

The $9-million "Set It Off" was only marketed on cable and alternative channels (Warner Bros., Fox, MTV, BET, etc.), not the three mainstream networks, while the smaller-budget, critically praised "Get on the Bus" was heavily promoted by distributor Sony on all outlets including ABC, CBS and NBC, but it opened weak, grossing only $6 million in four weeks.

The film got a bit of unwanted publicity when reports of a random shooting and gun brandishing outside a few theaters occurred last week. A report of gunfire happened at a Lakewood theater Wednesday.

"We had a few scattered incidents around the country on opening night. To my knowledge there have been no incidents since then and certainly we don't think the content of our film has inspired any incidents," said producer Dale Pollock of Peak Productions.

The "Ransom" producers had to contend with a different set of problems. Brian Grazer, the film's producer and Howard's Imagine Films partner, noted that "Ransom" was supposed to be a summer release for Disney's Touchstone Pictures. But a late January blizzard hit early during filming in New York and then Gibson had to undergo an emergency appendectomy that bumped the "Ransom" post-production schedule off target and out of the critical summer period.

And while the Imagine partners were in the midst of shooting Gibson in their movie, they were competing against him for the top Golden Globe and Oscar honors with Gibson's "Braveheart" and Imagine's "Apollo 13." Gibson proved the victor.

"I can remember Ron and I sitting at the Golden Globes awards, looking at each other when Mel won," Grazer said. "We both kind of grimaced. So I leaned over and said, 'Hey Ron, I guess we better go over and congratulate the guy since he's shooting our movie! Hey, if you have to get beat, who better to beat you than you're own star.' "

As for other movies: "Sleepers" was in fourth with $3.7 million; "High School High" was in fifth with about $3.1 million; "The First Wives Club" came in sixth with $2.15 million for the weekend, but is expected to hit the $100-million mark this week since it has accumulated $97 million in its eight-week run. In seventh was MGM/UA's "Larger Than Life" with $2.1 million; "The Ghost and the Darkness" was in eighth with about $1.66 million; "Dear God" claimed ninth with about $1.46 million; and "The Associate" was in 10th with an estimated $1.4 million.

Final official weekend totals will be released today.

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