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Feelin' Pretty Groovy: 'Austin Powers,' the Spy Who's No. 1

Box Office: Mike Myers beats out the 'Menace' with grosses that top even the most optimistic predictions.

June 14, 1999|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The '60s returned with a vengeance over the weekend as "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," starring Mike Myers, frugged its way into a record 3,312 theaters and carried on to the tune of $54.7 million--more than $16,500 a theater--outgrossing its predecessor in the first three days of its run. Factor in the $2.5 million that the film took in at Thursday night previews and the estimated total is an amazing $57.2 million.

"Powers" broke several records, and not the vinyl variety, either, beating "Batman Forever's" $52.7- million previous high-water mark for June and becoming the top comedy opening ever, handily outdistancing "The Waterboy's" $39.4 million. It also set a new record for New Line Cinema, whose previous best was "Rush Hour's" $33-million debut. The three-day total (excluding Thursday's previews) was second only to "Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace" among nonholiday starts.

"We weren't expecting this," said an ebullient Al Shapiro, New Line's head of distribution.

The company carefully laid groundwork for the "Powers" sequel, with an almost unprecedented barrage of marketing tie-ins and promotions. Awareness for the film reached stratospheric levels. It was the second-most-anticipated title of the summer after "Phantom Menace."

Early indications were that the film would handily beat the original "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," which took in $53.9 million in its entire run but went on to greater popularity on video. New Line booked the film in 3,312 theaters (two more than the previous record held by "Godzilla" and representing more than 5,500 prints of the film). But no one expected the sequel to outpace the original in its first weekend; even the rosiest estimates had the film coming in somewhere just past $40 million.

"We hit every audience," says Shapiro of the PG-13 rated film. "Kids laughed at the slapstick and adults at the jokes."

At a cost of $33 million, the "Powers" sequel has already made back its production budget and should sail past $100 million by its second weekend, with a potential $200-million total depending on how the comedy holds up against next weekend's "Tarzan" opening and, more significantly, the latest from yet another "Saturday Night Live" veteran, Adam Sandler, whose "Big Daddy" opens June 25.

The Myers sequel signaled the official beginning of the heart of the summer moviegoing season. Its arrival had little impact on films already playing, meaning attendance is on the upswing. How much did the market expand? According to Exhibitor Relations, the top 12 films sold about $112 million, far beyond last week's $79 million (and a terrific 35% ahead of last year's total for the same week).

Usually the debut of a powerhouse film has some effect on films that have been playing for several weeks. But even a film such as "The Matrix," which has been around for three months, experienced only a 14% decline from last weekend. From here on in, big titles will be landing fast and furious, week by week, as schools empty out, temperatures rise and theaters fill up. And the pace is not expected to abate until Labor Day, with the second half of the summer chock-full of movies that didn't want to be anywhere near "Phantom Menace" or "Austin Powers."

Though it's only June 14, "Powers" represents the fourth summer release that is expected to cross the $100-million level. Its arrival knocked "Phantom Menace" into second place after three weeks at the top. But "Menace" was down a mere 23% to an estimated $25.4 million in 3,024 theaters and is still raking in more than $8,000 a screen. At the end of its fourth weekend, the George Lucas sci-fi feature had grossed about $297 million and will cross $300 million by Tuesday, exactly one month since its debut, beating "Titanic" to that lofty perch by almost a week.

With "Austin Powers" having little impact on the "Star Wars" prequel, that film's real test comes next weekend when Disney's "Tarzan" swings into movie houses and co-opts "Phantom Menace's" tight hold on midday family attendance. And the week after that, "Big Daddy" will also go after much of that same target audience of young boys and the parents who take them to the movies.

In third place this weekend was the romantic comedy "Notting Hill," which also didn't suffer much, with a 25% drop to an estimated $11.2 million on 2,775 screens in its third weekend. With almost $70 million in just three weeks, the Julia Roberts film should squeak past $100 million before it's through, making it Universal's second summer release to get there. The first, of course, is the action adventure "The Mummy," which also remains steady, dropping to fifth place in its sixth weekend but taking in an additional $5.1 million on 3,090 screens for a grand total of nearly $136 million to date with a good chance of cracking $150 million.

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Second weekend grosses on "Instinct," starring Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr., dropped about 35%, to $6.8 million in 2,087 theaters for a 10-day total of just over $21 million. Another film skewing to older audiences, "Entrapment," starring Sean Connery, is still in the mix, holding surprisingly well with about $2.6 million in its seventh weekend in 2,147 theaters as it rounds the $80-million corner. And after 11 weeks, "The Matrix" is still in the top 10, in seventh place with another $2.1 million on 1,907 screens and close to $162 million so far.

The remaining films in the top 10 grossed around $1 million or less. "The Thirteenth Floor" was down to a disappointing $1.3 million in 1,815 theaters in its third weekend and not quite up to $10 million so far. "Never Been Kissed" declined to $850,000 for $52 million to date and "Tea With Mussolini" jumped back into the top 10. On only 275 screens, "Tea" took in about $770,000 for almost $8 million thus far in its limited run.

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