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'Almost Famous' Rocks in Limited-Release Debut

Box Office * Cameron Crowe's 1970s epic performs impressively at a mere 131 sites.

September 18, 2000|From Reuters

The Keanu Reeves thriller "The Watcher" notched a second consecutive weekend at the top of the North American box office, although its $5.7-million haul was the lowest for any No. 1 movie this year.

As overall ticket sales fell for the eighth consecutive weekend compared to the same period a year ago, the only star performer was writer-director Cameron Crowe's new film "Almost Famous."

The rock 'n' roll saga opened in limited release at No. 8 with $2.3 million for the Friday-to-Sunday period. While that looks modest, it was achieved in just 131 theaters across the United States and Canada, giving it a huge per-theater average of $17,557. By contrast, "The Watcher" played in 2,745 theaters, and averaged $2,077 per site.

Just as it did with eventual Oscar-winner "American Beauty," DreamWorks is rolling out Crowe's movie slowly, hoping the ecstatic reviews and word of mouth will fuel buzz among moviegoers and critics.

Based loosely on Crowe's own exploits as a teenage Rolling Stone scribe during the 1970s, the movie stars Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit and Oscar-winner Frances McDormand. Crowe was last in theaters with 1996's "Jerry Maguire," starring Tom Cruise.

"Almost Famous" opened Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles exclusively, after having its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Its five-day haul is $2.4 million.

The top 10 contained two other new movies. "Bait" (Warner Bros.), a heist comedy starring Jamie Foxx, opened at No. 2 with $5.5 million and a weak average of $2,338 from 2,352 sites. "Duets" (Touchstone), a karaoke road movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by her father, Bruce Paltrow, shared the No. 9 spot with "Scary Movie," both with $2 million. The average for "Duets" was $3,442 from just 581 theaters.

According to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co., the top 12 films grossed an estimated $38.1 million, down 16% from last weekend and down 44% from the year-ago period, when Martin Lawrence's "Blue Streak" opened at No. 1 with $19 million. This time of the year is traditionally slow at the box office, with conditions exacerbated by competition from the Olympics.

After 10 days in release, "The Watcher" has grossed $17.3 million. Starring Reeves as a serial killer, it is released by Universal Pictures, a unit of Seagram Co. Until this weekend, the January release "Eye of the Beholder" had the record for the lowest-grossing No. 1 movie of the year, with $6 million.

Rounding out the top five were: Universal's cheerleader comedy "Bring It On," which held steady at No. 3 with $5.1 million (its 24-day total is $50.9 million); the USA Films black comedy "Nurse Betty," down two to No. 4 with $4.7 million (and a 10-day total of $13.6 million); and the DreamWorks thriller "What Lies Beneath" with $2.6 million, up one to No. 5 with $2.5 million (and a 59-day total of $145.7 million).

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