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It's a Bountiful Summer

Season's crop of hits has had staying power

July 01, 2002|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If only the stock market was doing as well as the box office, the economy would be back on track by now. The sizzling summer of 2002 continued its blazing run last weekend with the Adam Sandler comedy "Mr. Deeds" premiering to a strong $37.6-million estimated opening, continuing Sony Pictures' winning streak for the season.

Once again the weekend was well ahead of the comparable period last year, with the top 12 movies grossing an estimated $132 million, 12% better than the final weekend in June last year, when "A.I." premiered to $29.3 million.

Thus far the season (from May 2 to June 23) is running 27.5% ahead of last year, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of the tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. Factoring in a 3.5% increase in ticket sales over last year, that's still a 23% surge in attendance.

The attendance increase is due primarily to two movies, "Spider-Man," which has sold almost $396 million in tickets, and "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones," which has done an estimated $286 million to date. "Spider-Man" is currently the fifth highest grossing movie of all time and about to become the third highest grossing movie in first release (Both "Star Wars" and "E.T." have grossed more but added to their totals after being reissued). Only "Titanic" and "The Phantom Menace" have done better in initial release.

Another key factor this summer is that the hit films are generally playing stronger and longer, unlike last year, when spectacular first weekend grosses were followed by drops of 50% or more in the second weekend attesting primarily to how effective marketing is with impressionable teens than overall audience satisfaction. But in addition to youth-oriented movies this summer, there have been a number of movies skewing to an older audiences, such as "Minority Report," "The Sum of All Fears" and "Bourne Identity, " that have demonstrated staying power.

"In years' past exhibitors were nervous about releasing upscale movies during competitive summer months," explains Warner Bros. distribution head, Dan Fellman. "But hits like 'Sum,' 'Bourne,' and our two movies, 'Insomnia' and 'Ya Ya Sisterhood,' show that counterprogramming is working very well. In the future you probably won't hear that complaint from adults: 'gee, there's nothing for me to see' [in summer]."

Success for Sandler

The latest summer hit, "Mr. Deeds" represents a return to prosperity for Sandler after the disastrous "Little Nicky," which grossed only slightly more in its entire run than "Deeds" did its first weekend--this despite poor reviews for "Deeds." The makeup of the audience was broader than expected, according to Sony distribution-marketing chief Jeff Blake. "Not only did we get the teens, but because of the romantic comedy elements, we got young adults and date night audiences as well."

Meanwhile, the seesaw battle for box office dominance between "Lilo & Stitch" and "Minority Report" last weekend resumed with the former inching ahead. "Minority" might have pulled in front for its premiere, but the availability of kids all week long vaulted the Disney animated film to first place for the entire week and kept it aloft in its second weekend with an estimated $22.2 million (only a 37% drop) and almost $78 million in 10 days. With adults flocking to theaters over the weekend, "Minority Report" came in just behind with an expected $21.6 million (down 39%) and $73.4 million so far.

The upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend will mark the midway point of the summer with fireworks expected when "Men in Black II" premieres Wednesday. Also entering the fray are the animated "Powerpuff Girls" and the live-action "Like Mike."

The record opening weekend for "Spider-Man" ($114 million), had a huge impact on the overall summer box office, noted Dergarabedian. "It set up a situation where there were a lot of satisfied moviegoers, and that momentum has carried through."

Geoff Ammer, Sony's head of marketing explained, "That first week in May has become the jump start for summer, and there is pressure to deliver for the whole industry. When you plant your flag on that date, you'd better have the goods. It's the only time even your competitors are rooting for you." After a surprisingly strong premiere, "Scooby-Doo" has been playing more like a film from last summer, dropping off substantially from week to week. Third weekend on "Scooby" was down another 50% to an estimated $12.2 million in 3,447 theaters and almost $124 million to date.

Because "The Bourne Identity" and "Sum of All Fears" are playing to an older audience, the attendance pattern has been more consistent. "Bourne" was down only 28% its third weekend in 2,663 theaters for an estimated $10.8 million and $72.5 million to date. "Sum" still has some life left in it, with $4.8 million predicted over the past weekend in 2,486 movie houses and $105 million to date.

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