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'Rounders' Reaps Goodwill in Opening Weekend

Box office: Matt Damon film pulls in an estimated $8.8 million over three-day period. 'Mary' hits $140 million.

September 14, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Gambling on the popularity of star Matt Damon, Miramax tried to sell his new film, "Rounders," as a kind of poker-playing version of "Good Will Hunting." Audiences responded with an adequate-but-not-great three-day opening estimate of $8.8 million in 2,176 theaters. That was good enough for No. 1, but it still doesn't put "Rounders" in a class with the current prom queen, "There's Something About Mary," which, after nine weeks, is still razzle-dazzle with an estimated $7.9 million for the weekend, about 10% off its hot Labor Day weekend pace in 2,557 theaters. "Mary" has arrived at the $140-million plateau.

The weekend's other major debut, "Simon Birch," loosely based on John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany," started out small on 596 screens for a somewhat encouraging $3.3 million, doing best in the heartland and suburbia with a wide age range, according to Disney's distribution chief, Phil Barlow. He also indicated the satisfaction level and generally good reviews could carry the movie to another level next weekend when the film climbs to between 800 and 900 runs.

All in all, the fall got off to a predictable start with the top 12 films grossing about $42 million, almost exactly the same as the comparable weekend last year, according to the industry tracking company Exhibitor Relations.

Running fang in neck for third and fourth place were "Blade" and "Saving Private Ryan," two of the more durable summer holdovers. "Blade" rounded out its first month with about $5.2 million on 2,389 screens and has done about $56 million in damage. "Ryan" completed its second month with an estimated $4.7 million in 2,705 theaters, with the $175-million mark on the near horizon.

"Ever After" is also showing sturdy legs after seven weekends with $2.4 million over the last three days in 1,937 theaters, taking this fairy tale past $57 million. But in its second weekend, Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Knock Off" got knocked way off--into seventh place with a pitiful $1.9 million (down almost 60%) in 1,800 theaters for a bit more than $8 million in 10 days. Something obviously got lost in the translation.

The thriller "Snake Eyes" tumbled into eighth place in 1,681 theaters with $1.65 million and more than $52 million to date. And the never-say-die "Armageddon" propped itself back up into the Top 10 over the weekend in 1,334 theaters with about $1.6 million and $194 million after 11 weeks.

With discount runs in its future, "Armageddon" now looks to crack $200 million. "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" also projected $1.6 million for the weekend in 1,275 theaters for a five-week total of $34 million, not bad for a film boasting no heavy-hitting box-office stars.

Of the limited-run films reporting, Fine Line's "Let's Talk About Sex" didn't do much talking in 258 theaters, flirting with $208,000 in its first weekend. "Your Friends & Neighbors" counted up $616,000 in 246 theaters for $3.3 million so far. The restored and recut "Touch of Evil," however, was quite impressive in only three theaters with an estimated $65,272, and could do better business in 1998 than it did in 1958, when it tanked with audiences.

The coming weekend brings a double-threat No. 1 contender, with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in "Rush Hour" and the weeper "One True Thing" starring Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger.

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