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Summer's Already Arrived

Box Office * With 'Scorpion King's' strong premiere, the blockbuster- film season, which used to unofficially start in early May, moves to April.

April 22, 2002|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Summer movies are here. "The Scorpion King" blasted its way into theaters like a hot July wind, scorching records for the month of April with an estimated $36.2 million start in 3,443 theaters.

Universal Pictures, which has effectively used late April to launch such movies as "Life" and "U-571" in the past, decided to get a two-week jump on the summer's first expected blockbuster "Spiderman," which premieres May 3, according to studio distribution chief Nikki Rocco. A similar strategy of opening high-profile films during quiet box-office periods paid off earlier this year with "The Ice Age" and "Blade II."

With the successful launch of "The Scorpion King," the summer, which used to unofficially start in early May, now seems to be moving into April. (The previous highest grossing film over an April weekend was "The Matrix," with just under $28 million.)

The spinoff of "The Mummy" franchise, which has brought in more than $800 million worldwide to date, stars wrestling superstar the Rock, whose appeal to young boys (and the young at heart) was confirmed by exit polls, which showed a slight edge (54% of ticket buyers) toward younger (under 25) males, according to Rocco. "Scorpion" was particularly strong with ethnic audiences and even drew a healthy share of females (44% of the first weekend's attendees). "We credit the production team with recognizing the Rock's potential in 'Mummy Returns' and fashioning the movie to play to his audience," says Universal Vice Chairman Marc Shmuger.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 23, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Box office--The heading for a box-office chart in Monday's Calendar incorrectly characterized figures for weekends in May over a period of years. The headline over the May information said, "Top May Openings," when it should have said, "Top Early May Openings."

"Scorpion King" was deliberately marketed to play up the action elements of the film in contrast to "The Mummy's" special-effects horror appeal. Universal is already planning a second "Scorpion" with the Rock, though he will first star in an "Indiana Jones"-type adventure, "Helldorado," also for Universal.

Even though "Spiderman" is expected to blow away all competitors, "Scorpion King" should enjoy two weeks with virtually no action competition and could continue to do business as an alternate attraction before the next "Star Wars" ups the summer stakes May 19, according to Rocco.

The only other arrival over the weekend was the Sandra Bullock detective yarn "Murder by Numbers," which grossed a disappointing $9.5 million in 2,663 theaters, unable to carve out a large enough niche for itself against other similar movies such as "Changing Lanes" and "High Crimes," both of which are already in theaters.

Of the three films "Changing Lanes," which stars Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson, is attracting the largest audience. The suspense-drama-cum-morality-tale fell a notch to second place with an estimated $11.1 million over the weekend--an acceptable drop of 35%--and almost $33 million in its first 10 days. "High Crimes," with Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, fell to eighth place with a 50% drop to about $2.8 million in its third weekend in 2,408 theaters and a total of just under $31 million.

Box-office totals for the top 12 films continued to improve on last year, thanks to such consistent spring hits as "Panic Room," "The Rookie," "Blade II," and especially "Ice Age." According to Exhibitor Relations, the 12 highest grossing films cornered an estimated $93 million, a substantial 37% ahead of last year. Grosses for the year to date are already 15% ahead of 2001, which indicates an increased attendance level of about 10%, with the remainder factored in for ticket-price inflation.

After a month in theaters, the thriller "Panic Room" is in fifth place, with a $6.2-million estimate and more than $82 million so far, making it one of Jodie Foster's biggest hits alongside "Silence of the Lambs" and "Contact."

Two family films "The Rookie," starring Dennis Quaid and the computer-animated "Ice Age" emerged as surprise hits over the past couple of months.

The former film, which is G-rated, continues to draw steady business week after week, dropping a less-than-average 22% in its fourth weekend for an estimated $6.3-million weekend gross and almost $54 million to date.

"Ice Age," however, is the season's blockbuster, and a major victory for 20th Century Fox, which has had little previous success in the animation field. The prehistoric tale is now in its sixth week and still pulling in about $5.7 million as it nears $160 million, the year's top-grossing film.

Another family film that's showing good legs is "Clockstoppers," which grossed another $2.9 million or thereabouts in its fourth weekend and almost $32 million to date.

One of the spring's disappointments is the Cameron Diaz comedy "The Sweetest Thing," which declined 45% in its second weekend in 2,670 theaters to a weak $5.2 million and only $17 million in 10 days. In 10th place is the similarly raunchy low-budget "National Lampoon's Van Wilder," which brought in $2.2 million in its third weekend for a good $17.3 million total so far.

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