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Audiences Dig 'Shaft,' but June Business Isn't Right On

Box Office * Action-drama debuts at $21.1 million, while other new arrivals find the weekend gloomy.


Even with four new films arriving in theaters and four films grossing $10 million or more, mid-June box-office returns were lackluster this weekend, with business down overall by nearly 25% from last year.

Of the debutantes, only "Shaft," starring Samuel L. Jackson, made a good entrance, dancing past the competition to take the No. 1 slot with a three-day opening gross estimated at $21.1 million in 2,337 theaters.

According to Paramount Pictures, "Shaft" pleased both the urban (African American) audience and suburban young males, just the kind of crossover approbation it needs to become a viable franchise again. Nonetheless, business from Friday to Saturday was up only slightly, not a good sign.

The other three new movies had very little pep in their step. Fox's sci-fi animated film "Titan A.E." appears to be a major misfire, based on its debut of $9.5 million in 2,733 theaters--and that's with help from Saturday night previews of "Me, Myself & Irene." With only an 18% rise from Friday to Saturday, "Titan" failed to bring in even young boys.

There was more bad news on the animation front as Disney brought back "Fantasia 2000" after its Imax run (to which it will reportedly return in the fall). But apparently anyone who wanted to see the film didn't want to see it in 35mm. "Fantasia" didn't even crack the top 10, pulling in at No. 11 with an unusually weak $2.8 million debut in 1,313 theaters.

Add the less than spectacular results from the studio's early summer film "Dinosaur" (its fifth weekend was down to $5.8 million and $120.5 million to date), and the makers of the upcoming animated films "Chicken Run" (arriving next weekend) and "Rocky & Bullwinkle" (the weekend after that) must be biting their fingernails.

Miramax's Dimension division filled the teen void in the market, but just barely, with a new Freddie Prinze Jr. comedy, "Boys and Girls," which had the dubious distinction of being a date-night movie that actually declined in attendance from Friday to Saturday. Overall the first weekend was a barely passable $7 million in 1,983 theaters.

Over the same weekend last year, "Tarzan," the Austin Powers sequel and "The General's Daughter" lit up theater marquees, each of them grossing more than this year's No. 1 film. The top 12 films currently in theaters scraped together about $95.6 million, according to Exhibitor Relations, compared to $124 million last year. That means 23% fewer tickets were sold over the past weekend.

And since summer is the heart of the film industry's year, losing such a sizable chunk of audience at a time when schools are out and temperatures are high is more than bit disconcerting for the overall health of the business. If Alan Greenspan is looking for signs of an economic slowdown, he might start with the movies.

"Gone in 60 Seconds" decelerated in its second weekend by more than 40%, slowing to an estimated $14.7 million on 3,049 screens, for a good 10-day total of about $52 million. "Big Momma's House" is still drawing visitors in its third weekend, with about $11.3 million estimated on 2,853 screens and a total of more than $70 million to date.

"M:I-2" continues as the summer leader with another $10.9 million expected in 3,633 theaters and a year's-best total of $176 million after just one month. It will take the combined efforts of Mel Gibson in "The Patriot" and George Clooney in "The Perfect Storm" to dislodge the Tom Cruise action vehicle and that's not for another two weeks, by which time "M:I-2" should be in the $200-million neighborhood.

"Gladiator" is the top 10's longest resident and over its seventh weekend brought in an estimated $4.9 million in 2,266 theaters, for $159 million or so to date.

But "Shanghai Noon" is getting very cloudy with only $3.6 million in its fourth weekend, and an underwhelming $47.8 million after a month in theaters. Tenth place fell to "Road Trip," which is wrapping up a profitable run with $3.1 million over the past weekend in 1,428 theaters and a still well-traveled $60.2 million to date.

Among limited engagements, the Hungarian epic "Sunshine" is shining brightest with $84,000 on eight screens in its second weekend, and $210,610 to date. Another foreign entry, "Butterfly," floated onto three screens with $30,000. "Love's Labour's Lost" expanded to 12 screens with a fair $55,000, and $92,000 after two weeks. And "Virgin Suicides" quietly surpassed $4 million over the weekend with $180,000 from 136 engagements.

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