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BOX OFFICE

War is keeping crowds home, or is it the choice of movies?

Movie-going is down for this time of year, but many who do go opt for comedy. 'Head of State,' 'Bringing Down the House' do well.

March 31, 2003|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Movie-going was down again this weekend, but some in Hollywood think the drop of 23% compared to the same period last year had more to do with the movies in the megaplexes than the war in Iraq.

For those who did go out, comedies were the big draw.

DreamWorks' "Head of State," starring Chris Rock, grossed an estimated $14 million while "Bringing Down the House," featuring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, brought in $12.5 million, which put the month-old movie from Disney's Touchstone Pictures over the $100-million mark.

"People are longing for something fun to see," said DreamWorks' head of distribution, Jim Tharp.

Paul Dergarabedian, head of Exhibitor Relations Inc., a box office tracking firm, noted that movie attendance was up 5% from last weekend, with the top 12 movies grossing $87 million compared to last weekend's $82 million. (Still, last weekend's figure represented a 29% drop over the weekend the year before.)

"The product just isn't there like it was last year," said Dergarabedian, noting a crop of films that had included "Panic Room," "The Rookie" and "Ice Age." The comparable weekend last year also fell on Easter, he said.

This weekend, the other major releases included Paramount's space thriller "The Core," and Sony's "Basic," which grossed $12.4 million and $12.1 million, respectively.

Also affecting the weekend box office was a broader presence for some Oscar winners, notably Miramax's "Chicago," which was expanded by 136 screens to a total of 2,701. It grossed an estimated $7.4 million, bringing its total to more than $144 million -- the highest ever for a Miramax release.

"Chicago," which won six Oscars, including best picture and best supporting actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones, also saw a 40% boost this week in soundtrack sales, according to Rick Sands, chief operating officer of Miramax.

Its international box office went up 25%, and Miramax claims to be making inroads even with the coveted under-25 male audience, although it said figures would not be released until Tuesday.

"The Oscar is kind of the seal of approval for younger audiences," said Sands.

"The Pianist," which received Oscars for best director, best actor and best screenplay, jumped to 773 screens and saw a huge boost in business. The movie grossed $2.4 million this weekend, averaging a healthy $3,165 per screen. The Holocaust drama has only grossed $23.5 million since December.

Jack Foley, head of distribution for Focus Features, which released "The Pianist," said movies might be proving a welcome escape from news on TV.

"The way the coverage is going, it's a talking-head war," he said. "So how long can you listen to these guys?"

Disney's anime release, "Spirited Away," which won best animated feature, was increased to 711 theaters and grossed $1.6 million. But Disney executives said they are not looking for a blockbuster run, saying anime -- a popular animation style in Japan -- has not really hit it big in the United States.

Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" increased its presence slightly, to 121 screens, and grossed $273,000 over the weekend. The movie, which won best documentary, went up 76% this weekend, for a total gross of $19.9 million.

This weekend's smaller movies, "Assassination Tango" and "Raising Victor Vargas," grossed $64,00 and $34,000, respectively, on a limited release.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box Office

Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total (millions) Head of State $14 $14

Bringing Down the House $12.5 $100.1

The Core $12.4 $12.4

Basic $12.1 $12.1

Chicago $7.4 $144.9

Dreamcatcher $6.4 $25.4

Agent Cody Banks $6.1 $34.9

Piglet's Big Movie $4.6 $12.4

View From the Top $3.8 $12.5

The Hunted $3.7 $29.3

*--*

Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.

Los Angeles Times

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