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Holiday Does the 'Impossible'

Box Office * Estimates put Memorial Day weekend at a record $174.7 million--40% of that from 'M:I-2.'


Smashing the existing Memorial Day record of 1997, when "The Lost World" debuted, seemed an impossible mission. But for the "Mission: Impossible 2" sequel it was a piece of cake. With backup from the Disney spectacular "Dinosaur" and three other movies ("Shanghai Noon," "Gladiator," "Road Trip") that grossed $14 million or more apiece, the record books are about to be rewritten.

According to Exhibitor Relations, the top 12 films are expected to gross an estimated $174.7 million over the holiday weekend, leaving the existing $148-million record in the dust. The new record is 24% ahead of the best Memorial Day ever and, as usual, was propelled by a blockbuster title.

"M:I-2" accounted for more than 40% of the weekend's total take with $71.8 million estimated on 3,653 screens over the weekend--almost $20,000 a theater.

Following the pattern of the first film, according to Paramount senior executive Rob Friedman, the adventure sequel attracted a predominantly older crowd (60% over the age of 25), though ticket sales were fairly evenly split between men and women.

In its first six days, the Tom Cruise $100-million action sequel has taken in almost $93 million, far better than the original, which grossed $75 million over a similar span in 1996. "M:I-2" is expected to cross the century million mark in the next couple of days and has an excellent chance of improving on the original's final domestic tally of $181 million, which would make it Cruise's most accomplished mission to date.

What really helped shatter the Memorial Day record, however, was the presence of at least four other movies that attracted sizable crowds, led by "Dinosaur," which continued its trek with a holiday weekend haul estimated at $33.5 million in 3,302 theaters and an 11-day total of nearly $82 million--pretty much on course with other top Disney animated blockbusters such as last summer's "Tarzan." "Dinosaur" will continue wandering the Earth for many weeks, especially since schoolrooms start emptying soon and parents will be dumping their kids at mega-plexes on a seven-day-per-week basis.

"Shanghai Noon," starring Jackie Chan, initially got a bit shanghaied by all the hoopla surrounding "M:I-2." But good reviews and a long weekend helped the comedy-western take in an estimated $19.5 million in its first four days on 2,711 screens. Disney's decision to move the film into the Memorial Day period despite strong action and comedy competition may yet prove to be a smart one--though next weekend brings another potentially big comedy, "Big Momma's House," starring Martin Lawrence.

"Gladiator" rounded out its first month with an estimated $17.3 million, taking the Roman epic past the $125-million mark. Fifth place fell to "Road Trip," which again proved that bad taste is timeless, grossing an estimated $14 million on 2,631 screens for an 11-day total of just under $36 million.

There was a sharp drop from fifth place to sixth. Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks" may be strictly a small-time performer, but it held nicely with about $3.9 million in its second weekend on only 870 screens and almost $9 million in two weeks. Along with "Road Trip" and "Gladiator," "Small Time Crooks" gives DreamWorks three of the top six titles.

"Frequency" is still humming along with an estimated $3.8 million in weekend five on 1,803 screens and about $35 million to date. "U-571" is quietly taking on water, submerging to $3.2 million over its sixth weekend in 2,043 theaters, but with a more than seaworthy $69 million to date. "Center Stage" is playing mostly in the wings with $2.8 million in weekend three in 1,506 theaters and only $12.9 million so far.

Rounding out the Top 10, "Where the Heart Is" pulled in an estimated $2 million on 1,372 screens and a hearty $29 million to date.

"Passion of Mind," which stars Demi Moore, didn't have much ardor in its 104-theater debut, grossing a limp $220,000 over the weekend, about $2,100 a theater. And as if things couldn't get any worse, "Battlefield Earth" took another precipitous fall, managing only $1 million in four days (down 79%) on 2,587 screens ($387 a theater) and just $20 million to date.

Finally, the holiday weekend and the NBA Finals gave the Imax film "Michael Jordan to the Max" a jump start with an estimated $702,526 on just 45 screens and a four-week total of more than $3 million.

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