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'Black Hawk' Flies Into Hollywood Battle

Box Office* Gritty tale of Somalian incident takes in $29 million. Disney's 'Snow Dogs' holds a strong second place.

January 21, 2002|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend has developed into an extension of the profitable Christmas season, and this year was no exception.

"Black Hawk Down," Ridley Scott's grueling epic about a daylong battle in Somalia, captured a potent $29 million in its first three days in 3,101 theaters after a feisty limited engagement beginning in late December to qualify for Academy Award consideration.

The "Black Hawk" number might have been even higher but for the Saturday football playoffs and a snowstorm, which curtailed attendance in major East Coast cities. Including the $2 million from limited release, "Black Hawk" should have a total of $34 million by tonight.

For the movie's distributor, Sony Pictures, that's welcome news after the stinging disappointment of its "Ali," which has grossed less than $60 million. "Black Hawk's" performance so far is impressive for a movie with no real stars, as is the breakdown of the audience, about 55% male but an encouraging 45% female, according to Sony senior executive Jeff Blake.

In a surprisingly strong second place was the Disney family film "Snow Dogs," starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which got the cold shoulder from critics but a warm reception from audiences with an estimated $17.5 million in 2,302 theaters, knocking all family movies except "Lord of the Rings" out of the top 10. A Disney senior executive attributes the strong showing to sneak previews the previous weekend, which tapped into the film-going audience's strong appetite for family fare.

Even with four movies grossing $11 million or more this weekend, attendance was down about 16% from last year's holiday weekend, according to the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. Next weekend brings four new national releases: the thriller "The Mothman Prophesies," starring Richard Gere; the swashbuckler "The Count of Monte Cristo"; the martial arts spoof "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist"; and the teen romance "A Walk to Remember."

After four weeks at the top, "Lord of the Rings" declined to third place, with a fifth weekend total of approximately $13 million in 3,266 theaters and about $246 million so far in the U.S., and well more than $500 million worldwide.

Now it's a waiting game until the Academy Award nominations Feb. 12. If "Lord" scores multiple nominations, particularly a best picture nod, the three-hour epic will get a hit of adrenaline and could challenge even the mighty "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which has grossed almost $310 million in the U.S. and is approaching $900 million globally, putting it in the company of such mega-blockbusters as "Jurassic Park" and "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace."

"A Beautiful Mind," Ron Howard's heart-tugging drama about one man's battle over paranoid schizophrenia, starring Russell Crowe, was in fourth place, with an estimated $11 million for the three days (Universal estimates the film will add an additional $2 million today) in 2,225 theaters. In its third weekend of general release, "Mind" has earned $75 million, with Oscar season still ahead.

The teen comedy "Orange County" held on sufficiently well in its second weekend, taking advantage of the college recess, with about $9 million in 2,317 theaters and a sweet 10-day total of abut $27 million.

"Ocean's Eleven" took in an estimated $5.7 million in 2,670 theaters, and more than $170 million to date. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is proving to be an offbeat hit with $4.3 million predicted for the weekend, in just less than 1,000 theaters, and about $36 million to date. As one of the rare romance movies around, "Kate & Leopold," starring Meg Ryan, is hanging in with $3.4 million in 2,381 theaters in its fourth weekend, for a total of about $42 million.

Robert Altman's comedy/mystery "Gosford Park" reached ninth place. Now on 658 screens, the film enjoyed an uptick to $3.3 million, for a total of more than $11 million.

In 10th place, "Vanilla Sky" added an additional $3 million, in 2,355 theaters, to top $93 million.

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