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There's Something About Late Summer: 'Mary' Zooms

Movies: Wacky comedy appears to be settling in for a long run at or near the top of the big-screen charts.

September 08, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the final salvo of a record summer season, "There's Something About Mary" leaped into first place for the first time in its two-month stay in theaters. Talk about tenacity. Over the four-day Labor Day weekend, 20th Century Fox's "Mary" laughed last and best with an estimated $11.5 million, though competing studios say that figure is about $500,000 too high. Regardless, "Mary's" grand total is around $130 million, with no end in sight.

The weekend's sole new arrival, another Jean Claude Van Damme kicker appropriately titled "Knock Off," was no match for the likes of "Mary"--or "Blade" or "Saving Private Ryan"--climbing no higher than fourth place with an estimated $5.6 million in 1,800 theaters. Van Damme may still ignite box offices abroad, but his U.S. star light seems to be dimming.

In a summer that probably will end with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattering Roger Maris' home run record, the film industry busily rewrote its own history books, crowding in about 8% more admissions and 9% more dollars than last year's record summer. With the help of an additional week of playing time (because of a late Labor Day), the cash total for the season came to $2.5 billion, pushing the industry's attempt to reach $6 billion in a single year for the first time.

Last week's champion, "Blade," still had the stuff of a late summer winner with a bully second place $10.4 million and has amassed a tidy three-weekend total of nearly $50 million.

The other stalwart, "Saving Private Ryan," remains unstoppable with an additional $8.6 million over the Labor Day weekend and a grand total of almost $167 million, securing second place this summer with the champ, "Armageddon," still in its cross-hairs. The latter, coincidentally, had a final rally of about $2.7 million and climbed over the $192 million mark.

"Mary," "Blade" and "Ryan" are expected to hold the fort through the early fall, with all three films appearing to have enough stamina to withstand the initial invasion of new arrivals and remain in the top 10 until at least early October.

Climbing back into the top five is Drew Barrymore's surprise performer, "Ever After," which took advantage of the four-day weekend to garner about $4.4 million. After six weeks, "Ever After" is living happily with more than $54 million and has surpassed another postmodern retelling of a classic romance, "Romeo & Juliet"--without the benefit of Leonardo DiCaprio. Another feisty female, Angela Bassett, is keeping "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" alive. Though it's not a major hit, the oddball romance is doing reasonably well with $3.1 million this weekend and $32 million after a month in theaters.

Right in front of "Stella" was Nicolas Cage's thriller, "Snake Eyes," which topped $50 million, adding about $3.4 million over the four-day holiday. The disco drama "54" continued its rapid descent with $4 million and a two-weekend total of $13 million, and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" held on slightly better with $3.55 million and has claimed $8.8 million in its first 10 days.

Rounding out the top 10 is another longtime resident, Disney's "The Parent Trap," which had a last gasp of family attendance before the official start of the school year with $2.9 million and just over $60 million after six weeks. Disney also debuted the long-on-the-shelf romance "Firelight" on 10 big-city screens over the weekend for an adequate $132,000.

The acid-soaked comedy "Your Friends & Neighbors" expanded to 229 art houses. and managed a nifty $1.4 million over the four-day holiday and has grossed $2.5 million to date.

Those not quite ready to throw in the towel for the fall TV season need not fear. There will be little movie downtime this year, starting with another Matt Damon film arriving on Friday, "Rounders," co-starring Edward Norton. Disney will also chime in with an extremely loose adaptation of John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" entitled "Simon Birch."

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