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'Scooby-Doo' Fetches Biggest June Debut

Box Office* With an estimated $56.4 million, it also boasts the third-best start of '02, thanks partly to adult ticket buyers.

June 17, 2002|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The feature film version of the '70s TV animation series "Scooby-Doo" didn't bowl over critics, but it did pluck the strings of nostalgia for a generation and its children, soaring to a sensational $56.4-million estimate in 3,447 theaters in its first three days. That's the biggest June debut ever and the best opening weekend of the year save for "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" and "Spider-Man."

"Scooby" and pals doubled the receipts of the weekend's other strong arrival, "The Bourne Identity," starring Matt Damon, which grabbed a hefty $27.5 million in 2,638 cinemas. "Bourne" in turn was almost twice as big as John Woo's war epic "Windtalkers," which washed up in third place with a moderate $14.5-million estimate in 2,898 movie houses.

As has been the pattern on most weekends in 2002, especially since the May 3 debut of "Spider-Man," attendance sprinted ahead of the comparable period last year. According to Exhibitor Relations, on the basis of studio estimates the top 12 movies are expected to gross about $160 million, almost 25% better than the second weekend of June 2001. Discounting that surge for ticket-price inflation, admissions were ahead by a healthy 20%.

And the best weeks of the season are still ahead, as summer recess breaks out over the coming week, and daily attendance potential rises through to mid-August.

Supplanting "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" (as well as the longer-running "Spider-Man" and the latest "Star Wars" episode) with the family audience, the mostly live-action "Scooby" got a one-week jump on the latest Disney animated effort, "Lilo & Stitch."

What Warner Bros. distribution head Dan Fellman was not counting on in projections was that "Scooby" would attract so many flying-solo adults. "We had audiences from 8 to 80," he says. Adults kicked the film into overdrive, enabling it to surpass the previous June record holder, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," which grossed $52.8 million in 1998. With schools mostly out, Fellman is looking for bullish midweek numbers that could be enough to carry "Scooby" past $100 million by the end of its second full week.

"Bourne" and "Windtalkers" split an over-25, largely male audience, which had been flocking to "Sum of All Fears." Of the two new arrivals, "Bourne" did far better, bolstered by the popularity of Robert Ludlum's bestselling novel. It also managed to attract a sizable under-25 audience thanks to what Universal distribution head Nikki Rocco calls "a fresh, hip marketing campaign that didn't make it seem like your father's spy movie."

"Windtalkers," starring Nicolas Cage, is another disappointment for MGM, relative to its $100-million-plus price tag. Like last weekend's "Bad Company," and before that, "Collateral Damage" and "Big Trouble," the World War II epic suffered from schedule shifting in the wake of last year's Sept. 11 attacks. "Windtalkers' " potential was further compromised by the fact that it followed two other successful war tales, "Black Hawk Down" and "We Were Soldiers." As for "Bad Company," second weekend numbers sagged to a wan $6.1 million in 2,944 theaters for a bland 10-day total of $21.8 million.

In fourth place was "Sum of All Fears," which was the No. 1 movie for the last two weeks. Even with two competitors courting the older male audience, "Sum" managed to hang in there with only a 30% drop, adding an estimated $13.5 million over the weekend in 3,230 theaters.

Though the female audience flocked to "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" last weekend and boosted it to first place during the week, the mother-daughter Southern gothic tale dropped almost 40% in its second weekend in 2,507 theaters to an estimated $9.8 million. Considering that "Ya-Ya" is surviving almost solely on female admissions, the almost $35 million collected in 10 days attests to the box-office clout of women.

It looks as if "Attack of the Clones" will join the elite $300-million club before it's through, based on the $9.2-million estimate in its fifth weekend in 2,401 theaters. Though it has grossed more than $270 million to date, "Clones" is not in the same league as its predecessor, "Phantom Menace." Nor will it be able to claim the year's No. 1 position, which now belongs to "Spider-Man." In its seventh weekend, "Spidey" was still swinging with an estimated $7.4 million in 2,702 theaters and an astounding $382 million to date. The animated "Spirit" was bruised by the arrival of "Scooby-Doo," but not disastrously so. Fourth weekend was down about 40% to an estimated $5.5 million in 2,873 theaters and a more-than-satisfactory monthlong total of almost $64 million. At this gait, "Spirit" doesn't appear likely to reach $100 million. In 10th place is the blaxploitation spoof "Undercover Brother," which grossed about $4.6 million in its third weekend in 1,830 theaters.

In what continues to be the major independent surprise hit of the year, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which is still on only 455 screens, took in an additional $1.8 million in its ninth weekend of release, lifting its total to $13.7 million.

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