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'X-Men' Help to Rescue Summer

Box Office * Comic book heroes' opening is deemed July's biggest ever--an estimated $57.5 million. The season's totals could still catch up to last year's.

July 17, 2000|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The great turnaround of summer 2000 continued over the weekend with the most X-cellent debut of 20th Century Fox's "X-Men," starring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. The mutant heroes leaped to life with an estimated $57.5 million on 3,025 screens, beating the most optimistic predictions by a mile to become the biggest July opening ever, according to box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

Despite mixed reviews, the lure of the well-known title drew viewers of all ages to the multiplex. The three-day total looks to be just a bit shy of "M:I-2's" $57.8-million first weekend (which was a holiday weekend) and should rank as the fourth-highest weekend ever when the final figures are tallied today.

Though ticket buyers tended to skew male and younger, according to Fox senior executive Tom Sherak, almost half the audience was older than 25. What's more, he said, exit polls indicated high satisfaction levels among all demographics, which bodes well for the film's longevity.

With "X-Men" opening better than any of the "Batman" movies, it's virtually guaranteed to become a new franchise for the studio. And unlike the "Star Wars" series, which Fox also releases, the studio owns all movie rights to the comic book characters.

Fox's good fortune helped rival studios as well: "X-Men" created a swelling attendance tide that lifted all the boats at the box office.

Given that "Scary Movie" was drawing from the same pool of young moviegoers, the latter was expected to take a hit in its second weekend, especially after its powerhouse opening weekend. But the drop was a less-than-anticipated 39%, to $26.1 million or so on 3,152 screens, for a whopping 10-day total of $89 million. The Friday-to-Saturday jump in ticket sales indicates that "Scary Movie" is starting to attract a larger older audience.

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The comedy spoof film should be racing "X-Men" to the $100-million mark, which both will reach by next weekend. Given its meager $19-million cost, "Scary Movie" should be Dimension's biggest hit ever, even bigger than the "Scream" movies that inspired it. Not surprisingly, there's already talk of a sequel.

"X-Men" didn't take much wind out of "The Perfect Storm's" sails either. The third weekend for the George Clooney/Mark Wahlberg adventure was steady as she goes, an estimated $17.5 million in 3,407 theaters, for a grand total just shy of $130 million. "Storm" should cruise to close to $200 million before it's through.

With three mega-grossers now playing, movie attendance is booming. Variety's estimates for the summer (starting with the debut of "Gladiator" on May 5) put the season at about 3% behind last year coming into the past weekend. The $148.8 million grossed by the top 12 movies, however, should help close that gap. The past weekend was a hefty 39% ahead of last year, according to Exhibitor Relations.

"The Patriot" held well with an estimated $11 million on 3,061 screens for a red, white and blue three-week total of more than $83 million. "Patriot" has now surpassed Mel Gibson's other historical epic, "Braveheart," which only made it to $75 million.

After a shaky start, "Disney's The Kid," starring Bruce Willis, has obviously begun generating good word of mouth, which resulted in an unnoticeable second weekend drop of 17% to $10.5 million in 2,320 theaters and a very good 10-day total of $30 million.

"Chicken Run" is also making plenty of scratch--an estimated $7.8 million in its fourth weekend in 2,953 runs and a monthlong total of nearly $77 million.

Totals for "Me, Myself & Irene" are running neck and neck with "Chicken," though the Jim Carrey film ultimately will be outpaced by the clay animation family film. Fourth weekend gross for the Carrey comedy was a still viable $5.7 million in 2,850 theaters.

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Audiences are catching up with the remaining long-distance runners in the top 10. "Big Momma's House" is still crowded with an estimated $2.8 million in its seventh weekend on 1,642 screens, and $108 million to date.

"Gone in 60 Seconds" continues at a steady clip with about $2.6 million in its sixth weekend and $91 million so far.

In 10th place, "Shaft" is rounding out a profitable run with $2.45 million in its fifth weekend on 1,747 screens and $66 million so far.

Among limited releases, "Sunshine" continues to be one of the better foreign-film draws of the year with $468,000 over the weekend on 147 screens and $2.3 million so far. "Chuck and Buck" debuted on seven screens in three major cities over the weekend and grossed a good $70,000. And "The Five Senses" debuted in New York in two theaters for a $28,000 start. "Senses" opens in Los Angeles this Friday.

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