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Holiday Box Office Ends Summer With a Whimper

September 05, 2000|DEAN GOODMAN | REUTERS

The high school cheerleader comedy "Bring It On" topped the U.S. Labor Day holiday box office for the second consecutive weekend as the lukewarm summer moviegoing period wrapped on a lackluster note, according to studio estimates issued Monday.

"Bring It On" racked up $14.5 million for the Friday-to-Monday period, taking the 11-day total for the Kirsten Dunst vehicle to $37 million. The $10-million-budgeted film was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of Seagram Co.

The Jennifer Lopez psychological thriller "The Cell" (New Line) was No. 2 with $9.1 million in its third weekend. Actor-director-producer Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys" (Warner Bros.) was No. 3 with a four-day haul of $8.3 million in its fifth round.

Both rose one place, as WB's Wesley Snipes thriller "The Art of War" slipped two places to No. 4 with $7.6 million in its second weekend. New Line and Warner Bros. are units of Time Warner Inc.

Overall ticket sales fell for the sixth consecutive weekend compared with a year ago. Tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. reported the top 12 films grossed $76.3 million for the four-day period, down 16% from the year-ago weekend.

For the first time since 1991, summer ticket sales failed to top the previous year's haul. The current season, which kicked off May 5 with the release of "The Gladiator," saw ticket sales reach about $3 billion, off from last year's $3.2 billion.

"It was a good summer, not a great summer," said box-office analyst Gitesh Pandya at Boxofficeguru.com, adding that the offerings were very inconsistent.

After a strong start with "Gladiator," "Mission: Impossible 2" and "Dinosaur," the box office suffered in June, recovered in July with "The Perfect Storm," "X-Men" and "Scary Movie" and then petered out.

While 1999 offered plenty of buzz movies such as "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" and sleeper hits such as "The Sixth Sense," this year came up short. Also hindering business was the lack of female-targeted movies, he said, with A-list actresses such as Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sandra Bullock out of the picture.

He warned that September looks very weak, in part because of competition from the upcoming Summer Olympics, which could in turn affect October.

The studios take advantage of a lull in business this time of the year to clear their slates before rolling out their big fall and holiday entries. This weekend saw two new releases, "Highlander: Endgame" and "Whipped," neither of which generated much enthusiasm.

"Highlander: Endgame" (Miramax) the fourth installment in the supernatural thriller franchise, opened at No. 5 with $6.4 million. "Whipped" (Destination), a romantic comedy starring Amanda Peet, opened out of the top 10 with just $2.7 million. Miramax is a unit of Walt Disney Co. Destination is privately held.

After four weekends in limited release, the British comedy "Saving Grace" widened to 875 runs from 255 across the United States and Canada, grossing about $2.9 million for a rank of about No. 13. It stars Brenda Blethyn as a cash-strapped widow who starts growing pot to help make ends meet.

It will stay at 875 screens, and Time Warner-owned Fine Line Features will look for word of mouth from two distinct demographics, college kids and middle-aged audiences, to propel business, he said. Its 32-day total stands at $6.7 million.

Among other totals, "The Cell" has $46.4 million, "Space Cowboys" $74.2 million and "The Art of War" $21.3 million.

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