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A Grim Liftoff for Travolta's Sci-Fi Epic 'Battlefield Earth'

May 15, 2000|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Weighted down by the most scathing reviews in recent memory, the sc-fi spectacular "Battlefield Earth," starring John Travolta, had a disappointing opening weekend, generating only an estimated $12.3 million despite being shown on 3,307 screens.

Debuts for three other films, "Center Stage," a teen romance set in the world of dance, the comedy "Screwed" starring Norm Macdonald, and the romantic comedy "Held Up" starring Jamie Foxx, also performed only moderately well.

With no competition for the top slot, "Gladiator" continued its conquest, taking in roughly $24.3 million over the weekend. Its 10-day total of $73.3 million should bring "Gladiator" close to $100 million by Memorial Day, when it goes up against "Mission Impossible 2" and "Shanghai Noon," also contenders for the action audience.

Meanwhile, "Hamlet," set in contemporary Manhattan and the beneficiary of good critical notices, got off to a promising $61,000 start on only four screens in New York and L.A. Hoping to build on that success, Miramax will take the film into the top 10 markets over the next week.

"Battlefield Earth's" start was particularly grim news given a heavy round of publicity appearances by its star. The independently financed $75-million film, which is being distributed by Warner Bros., is a long-cherished project of Travolta. Based on the sci-fi novel by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology of which the actor is a member, the project has knocked around Hollywood for a decade despite Travolta's involvement.

The actor originally envisioned portraying its rebellious hero, but as time passed, Travolta grew too old for the role. Instead, he plays the cackling alien villain Terl, and critics have had a field day with his showy performance.

Opening night for "Battlefield" brought out the sci-fi curious for a potentially promising $4.4-million start. But Saturday night provided almost no uptick, whereas many films in the top 10 saw ticket sales rise by 40% or more. Warners was estimating about $3.3 million for Sunday.

Like "I Dreamed of Africa," Kim Basinger's hand-picked follow-up to her Oscar-winning "L.A. Confidential" performance, Travolta's dogged pursuit of "Battlefield Earth" seems to have been a miscalculation.

Teenage girls flocked to "Center Stage," bringing its opening-weekend take to about $4.8 million. Its main competition came from "Where the Heart Is," with the star power of Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman helping it turn in a projected $3.6 million this weekend, $21 million to date.

Right behind "Gladiator," and holding very well, is the submarine drama "U-571," with an estimated $5.8 million in its fourth weekend. "Frequency," now in its third weekend, was holding steady too with $4.8 million.

It appears likely that Disney's animated hybrid "Dinosaur" will quickly overtake "The Flintstones Viva Rock Vegas" when it arrives next weekend. The third weekend for the "Flintstones" sequel was a modest $4.8 million.

Romance and comedy occupied the bottom rungs of the top 10: "Love and Basketball," the African American sports romance, actor Edward Norton's directing debut, "Keeping the Faith" and the new Jamie Foxx comedy "Held Up."

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