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'The Sum of All Fears' Opens to the Sum of $31.2 Million

June 03, 2002|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After drawing media attention on the entertainment and editorial pages of newspapers and on television for its nuclear terrorist plot line, "The Sum of All Fears" overtook "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" as the top film in the country over the weekend.

The Tom Clancy adaptation starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman earned an estimated $31.2 million in 3,183 theaters, appealing mainly to older males and females--two-thirds of the audience was older than 25, according to a Paramount Pictures spokeswoman.

Affleck's younger version of Clancy's hero Jack Ryan compares favorably with the previous Ryan outing, "Clear and Present Danger," which starred Harrison Ford and opened in August 1994 to $20.3 million.

Paramount carefully balanced its marketing, playing up the film's action without avoiding the fact that it deals with the explosion of a nuclear device that has been smuggled into the U.S.

Paramount senior executive Rob Friedman says the studio did some fine tuning in the marketing as opening day approached, but that the long screening program (the film was finished before the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon) elicited so much positive response that his job was providing balance "to demonstrate that we weren't trying to capitalize on current events and not promoting a different movie from the one they were going to see in theaters."

Present-day world tensions actually made the film "more compelling" to screening audiences, says producer Mace Neufeld, though he regrets that critics "reviewed how audiences would react to the movie rather than the movie itself."

By opening "Sum" right after the Memorial Day holiday, Paramount got a jump on a number of movies aimed at the adult male action crowd.

This weekend brings another nuclear terrorism tale, the more comic "Bad Company," starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock, which was delayed from a Christmas release in response to Sept. 11. "The Bourne Identity" and "Windtalkers" arrive the following weekend and Steven Spielberg's sci-fi "Minority Report" on June 21.

Attendance was down considerably from the record Memorial Day holiday, making it one of the few weekends of the year to compare unfavorably with the comparable period in 2001. Given that many of the top movies in release cater to a male audience, the two Lakers' championship games (on Friday and Sunday) did not help matters.

The only other film that premiered was Imagine Entertainment's '70s blaxploitation spoof "Undercover Brother," which drew amused critical response and a healthy $12.1 million in 2,167 theaters, putting it in fourth place.

"Attack of the Clones" nose-dived 57% to an estimated $20.7 million and a three-week total of about $232 million. "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" also lost steam early in its run but hung on through the summer to gross more than $430 million.

"Spider-Man" has been hanging on tenaciously in midweek, attracting young patrons who are already out of school. The fifth weekend was holding at about $14.5 million and continuing to break records--it reached the $350 million plateau in only 31 days ("Phantom Menace" took nine days longer). By midweek, "Spider-Man" should climb into the top-five-grossing movies of all time, bumping off "Jurassic Park," which grossed $357 million.

Holding well in its second weekend is the animated "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," which dropped less than any movie in the Top 10 from the holiday (about 40%) to an estimated $10.7 million. Its total after 10 days is $38.2 million.

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