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'MIB II' Almost Outgunned by Tom Hanks

Sequel gasps to stay on top as 'Road to Perdition' and 'Reign of Fire' gather crowds old and young


Although it remained the No. 1 movie, "Men in Black II" got knocked down a peg in its second weekend as a quartet of new films sapped business from the powerhouse sequel, led by Tom Hanks in the period drama "Road to Perdition" and the dragon-slayer film "Reign of Fire" with Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey.

As expected, "MIB II" dropped by slightly more than half, following the pattern of concept-driven event movies (especially sequels) that open huge and take steep second weekend declines. The Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones follow-up to the blockbuster 1997 original lost 52% of its clientele, falling to a still-good estimate of $25 million in 3,611 theaters on more than 6,000 screens. The two-week total is now $133 million, with tickets selling at about the same clip as the original.

At $12,305 per theater, "Road to Perdition" was far and away the best performer in the top 10 with an expected $22.1 million in only 1,797 theaters. The gangland opus divided critics, but thanks to Hanks, whose star drawing power continues unabated, DreamWorks' risk in introducing downbeat (albeit dripping with prestige) material during the summer, paid off handsomely. On a per-theater basis, "Perdition" was pretty close to the first weekend of "Saving Private Ryan," which starred Hanks and opened in July 1998, said company distribution chief Jim Tharp.

The first weekend audience for "Perdition" was composed mainly of adults, and exit polls showed "substantially above average" satisfaction, said Tharp, which should provide the film a base on which to build over the coming weeks as DreamWorks expands the number of theaters by about 200 a week and works toward recouping "Road's" reported $80-million-plus budget. But can anyone remember the last Tom Hanks movie that grossed less than $100 million?

(Discounting 1996's "That Thing You Do," which Hanks directed and in which he had a supporting role, it was his 1993 Oscar-winning "Philadelphia," which took in about $77 million domestically).

Young males were seduced by fire-breathing dragons in "Reign of Fire," which was largely review-proof in its first weekend in 2,629 theaters, consuming an estimated $16 million to end up in third place. Like fourth-place finisher "Halloween: Resurrection," which got off to a decent start of $12.3 million in 1,954 theaters, the second weekend will be the true indicator of longevity since monster and horror movies draw a disproportionate number of youngsters, which gets the films off to a flying start but can also lead to accelerated attrition, as their fickle audience moves on to newer movies.

The weekend's fourth general release, "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course," didn't quite make it into the top five, with an estimated $10 million in 2,525 theaters, but given the subject matter and relatively low cost, performed well enough to help stem the tide of red ink flowing out of MGM, the studio that produced the film.

The new blood was vital to the past weekend's estimated $130 million total for the top 12 movies. According to Exhibitor Relations, this year's leaders ran almost 20% ahead of last year and almost even with last weekend's generous haul. The year to date is approaching $5 billion, and Friday brings the Harrison Ford submarine drama "K-19" and the family film "Stuart Little 2," as well as the tongue-in-cheek giant spider thriller "Eight Legged Freaks."

Holding in fifth place is Adam Sandler as "Mr. Deeds," which added approximately $11 million in its third weekend in 3,239 theaters. With $94 million in the till, "Deeds" should reach $100 million right behind 10th place "The Bourne Identity." The Matt Damon suspense film grossed about $5.8 million in weekend No. 5 in 2,199 theaters and is at $99 million.

Given all the bumps in the road "Bourne" hit--release date postponements, re-shoots--the fact that it will surpass $100 million makes it one of the more unexpected hits of the summer.

The two major kiddie movies in the top 10, "Lilo & Stitch," and "Like Mike," held up well after the holiday weekend, ending up neck and neck at about $7.6 million apiece. The former has now grossed $118 million, while "Mike" has taken in almost $33 million after only two weeks.

In ninth place, "Minority Report" was somewhat affected by new arrivals, declining by about 41% to $7.4 million in 2,419 theaters and $110 million in four weeks. Although it's a certified hit for Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, "Minority" doesn't appear likely to achieve blockbuster status (considering its $100 million plus price tag), although overseas business likely will exceed the U.S. take.

Still hovering in the top 12 on only 501 screens, the honeymoon is far from over for the specialized release "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which after 13 weeks in release grossed an additional $2.2 million (off by a minuscule 10%) and is now at $27 million.

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