Some say it was the religious-themed title that turned off audiences, others point to a weak trailer and tough competition from other films.
Whatever the cause, "Holy Man" just about died coming out of the starting gate over the weekend with Disney's chances of reviving the Eddie Murphy comedy virtually nil.
The film debuted at only $5.1 million, finishing a distant No. 5 behind the week's box-office leader, "Antz," the computer-animated bug cartoon from DreamWorks that took in $14.7 million. The reasons for "Holy Man's" shockingly poor showing will be grist for Hollywood analysts and studio executives for weeks to come.
The opening has to be a deep disappointment for Disney's Touchstone Pictures, since Murphy had been making a dramatic comeback with fans in recent years. It followed on the heels of the summer hit "Doctor Dolittle," which has taken in $142.2 million for 20th Century Fox since opening in June.
"I think any time you have a film that has some kind of religious connotation, in the heartland of this country there may be some resistance to that--anything that they feel might be poking fun at religion," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co.
There are some who say that Disney's trailer for the film didn't seem to click. "The trailer was kind of goofy with Morgan Fairchild's face getting distorted," a source said.
Others say the film's failure is just more proof that it's the film that brings in audiences, not the star.
"It just wasn't a great movie," one Hollywood observer said. "You show your material and you hope it turns on people. When it doesn't turn them on, they don't come and it doesn't matter what star is in them."
"Holy Man" also opened against other popular comedies. Besides "Antz," whose humor appealed to kids and older audiences, the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker action comedy "Rush Hour," continued to perform well, taking in $11.1 million to finish in second place.
Murphy, who is said to make between $17 million and $20 million per picture, is also not the young, hip comedian fresh out of "Saturday Night Live" when he made more than $1 billion at the box office in such movies as "Beverly Hills Cop."
Murphy has had his share of blockbusters and box-office disappointments recently. "Doctor Dolittle" roared to $29 million on its opening weekend. The previous year, however, Murphy's cop-themed action film "Metro" only took in $11.4 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, eventually winding up with $32 million in domestic box office.
Murphy's upcoming projects include the film "Life," co-starring Martin Lawrence, due out early next year, and "Bowfinger's Big Thing," with Steve Martin, due out next summer. Also set to shoot is a sequel to "Nutty Professor," the remake of the Jerry Lewis comedy that reignited Murphy's career in 1996.
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Weekend Box Office
Three-day gross/ Screens/ Weeks in Movie (Studio) Total (millions) Average Release 1. "Antz" $14.7 2,813 2 (DreamWorks) $35.6 $5,231 2. "Rush Hour" $11.1 2,701 4 (New Line) $98.4 $4,112 3. "What Dreams May Come" $10.9 2,531 2 (PolyGram) $31.2 $4,313 4. "A Night at the Roxbury" $6.1 2,169 2 (Paramount) $17.8 $2,816 5. "Holy Man" $5.1 2,013 1 (Disney/Touchstone) $5.1 $2,537 6. "Urban Legend" $4.8 2,257 3 (Sony/TriStar) $26.5 $2,114 7. "Ronin" $4.7 2,257 3 (MGM/UA) $30.8 $1,881 8. "Something About Mary" $2.8 1,936 13 (Fox) $161.9 $1,425 9. "One True Thing" $1.9 1,568 4 (Universal) $20.2 $1,225 10. "Saving Private Ryan" $1.3 1,230 12 (DreamWorks) $185.0 $1,057
SOURCE: Exhibitor Relations Co.