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What a 'Rush'--Tucker, Chan Fell Fall Records

Box office: The duo's action movie pulls in an estimated $31 million. In second place is 'One True Thing.'

September 21, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The East-meets-West combination of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the action-comedy "Rush Hour" brought Indian summer to the nation's box office, handily shattering all existing September (and October) records with an opening estimated at $31 million.

The family drama "One True Thing," starring Renee Zellweger and Meryl Streep, pulled down heartfelt reviews and, despite only being in 1,590 theaters, came in second place for the weekend with a promising $6.6 million. It may not be the breakaway film that hit-thirsty Universal Pictures has been looking for, but it could certainly build into a modest performer.

Building on his rising star status from last year's "Money Talks," Tucker has broken through to the front ranks and taken the international superstar Chan along with him. The PG-13 adventure sold out evening shows and matinees as well, according to New Line distribution and marketing chiefs Al Shapiro and Mitch Goldman, for a per-screen average of close to $12,000 in 2,638 theaters.

"Rush Hour" also pulled in the family audience as well as the expected male action crowd. "We haven't seen anything like this since 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,' " says Shapiro about New Line's previous best-opening film ($25 million). Goldman indicated that exit polls were strong enough to portend a better-than-average second weekend hold, meaning the film has an excellent shot at hitting $100 million.

On a more modest level, "One True Thing" squarely hit its female demographic, older women and women in the 18-25 age range. According to a Universal spokesman, the 93% "definite recommend" response from male and female viewers is good news for the film's long-term prospects, especially since older audiences don't necessarily rush out to see dramas their first weekend. "One True Thing" was also helped by Streep's TV talk show appearances to promote the film.

With "Rush Hour" accounting for almost 50% of all ticket sales for the top 12 films, the mid-September weekend got a jolt, bringing in almost 24% more business than the comparable weekend last year, according to the industry tracking company Exhibitor Relations.

Still playing in the majors is "There's Something About Mary," which is hanging in stubbornly in third place with only moderate signs of erosion after 10 weeks in theaters--the longest-running film in the top five--for an estimated $5.9 million in 2,543 theaters and the $150-million mark less than a week away.

Last week's No. 1 film, "Rounders," starring Matt Damon, tumbled out of the top slot to fourth place with a serious 43% drop, for a weak-handed second weekend of $4.8 million in 2,191 theaters and an OK two-week total of about $16 million. In fifth place was Disney's "Simon Birch," which got a week's jump on "One True Thing" and is courting some of the same audience. The heartwarming drama expanded nicely to 896 theaters, increasing its business by an encouraging 17% for a hefty weekend total of almost $3.9 million and more than $8 million in 10 days.

"Saving Private Ryan" slipped out of the top five for the first time since its debut. Weekend 9 added an additional $3.4 million (from 2,511 screens) for $178 million so far. "Rush Hour" took most of the wind out of "Blade's" sails as fans abandoned Wesley Snipes for Tucker and Chan. But the weekend's projected $3.2 million was enough to take "Blade" over the $61-million mark. "Ever After" remains comfortably ensconced in the top 10, this week in eighth place with $1.7 million after seven weeks in theaters and almost $60 million so far.

In ninth place and still giving off sparks is "Armageddon," which brought in an additional $1.2 million over the weekend in 1,259 houses and is now at $196 million since its Fourth of July weekend debut. Rounding out the top 10 with just less than $1 million projected is the thriller "Snake Eyes," which has now grossed $54 million.

Next weekend brings another action thriller, "Ronin," starring Robert De Niro, and the teen thriller "Urban Legend."

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