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Weekend box office surprises even 'Almighty'

Jim Carrey comedy is the second-largest Memorial Day-opening movie in history.

May 27, 2003|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Yes, he's definitely got the power.

Elastic-face comic Jim Carrey pulled off a stunner this weekend as his divine new comedy, "Bruce Almighty," grossed an estimated $86.4 million -- the second-best Memorial Day opening ever and the biggest of any comedy that wasn't a sequel.

Going into the four-day holiday weekend, many had predicted that Universal Pictures' "Bruce Almighty" would do well to break even with Warner Bros.' powerhouse sci-fi sequel "The Matrix Reloaded," which was setting box-office records galore. But when the dust had settled, "The Matrix Reloaded" had seen its box office plunge 60% when comparing its Friday-Sunday totals with the preceding three-day weekend. And one could only imagine Carrey's character in "Bruce Almighty" flashing eight fingers on one hand to show how much box office his new film had delivered.

"If you would have asked me [going into the weekend] did I expect 'Bruce Almighty' to make $80 million, I would have said, 'Absolutely not,' " said Nikki Rocco, president of Universal Pictures Distribution. "I would have been thrilled with a '4' or '5' in front of it.... I honestly believed it was going to be a huge No. 2 and we were prepared for that."

"Bruce Almighty" fell short of the top-grossing Memorial Day release, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," which opened with $90.2 million in 1997.

Rocco noted that exit polling confirmed the broad appeal of "Bruce Almighty," which was directed by Tom Shadyac and co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Morgan Freeman. Not only did it attract an equal number of younger and older moviegoers, but also a nearly equal number of men versus women (53% female). Overall, the Memorial Day weekend this year could top all previous years, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. He estimated that the 2003 weekend will see the top 12 films grossing $193.2 million, compared to $191.4 million last year. Final figures will be released today.

The huge opening for "Bruce Almighty" also gave further proof that, so far this year, it seems moviegoers are looking for laughs.

"Anger Management," the Jack Nicholson-Adam Sandler comedy, has grossed an estimated $131.8 million after seven weeks in release, while "Daddy Day Care," the family comedy starring Eddie Murphy, kept a solid hold on third place over Memorial Day despite heavy competition and has grossed an estimated $73.1 million after three weeks in release.

"Comedies are unstoppable this year," Dergarabedian said. "After the [Iraq] war and everything, I think people were looking for an escape, and ['Bruce Almighty'] had sort of a religious overtone and a wholesome message that the whole country could get behind."

"Bruce Almighty" is certainly the best opening of any Carrey movie -- surpassing "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which opened with $55.1 million in November 2000 and went on to gross $260 million domestically.

As for "The Matrix Reloaded," it appears that its spectacular two-week climb to $209.5 million in box office is quickly slowing down, landing it in second place over the four-day holiday weekend with an estimated $45.6 million.

"From my point of view, the drop-off was anticipated because of the record number of people who have seen this movie in the first week," said Dan Fellman, who heads theatrical distribution at Warner Bros.

Meanwhile, "Daddy Day Care" is proving a very resilient performer for Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Eddie Murphy family comedy grossed an estimated $18 million over Memorial Day, a drop-off of only 26% from the weekend before.

The comic book-themed sequel "X2: X-Men United" from 20th Century Fox took in an estimated $13.1 million for fourth place for a total of $192 million.

If the holiday brought any disappointment for Hollywood, it was the performance of the Michael Douglas-Albert Brooks comedy "The In-Laws," which grossed about $9.1 million.

Some might question why Warner Bros. would choose to release "The In-Laws" in a market already blooming with successful comedies -- and on the same weekend as "Bruce Almighty" -- but Fellman said the demographics of the film were "quite different" than Carrey's film.

"Memorial Day is a good, solid weekend and not every movie has to be geared toward teens and families," he said. "Even though 'The In-Laws' opening was slightly disappointing, the response from the audience was good and exit polls are quite good.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to sustain ourselves."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 4-day gross Total (millions)

*--*

*--* "Bruce Almighty" $86.4 $86.4

"The Matrix Reloaded" $45.6 $209.5

"Daddy Day Care" $18.0 $73.1

"X2: X-Men United" $13.1 $192.0

"The In-Laws" $9.1 $9.1

"Down With Love" $5.1 $14.7

"The Lizzie McGuire Movie" $4.0 $37.3

"Holes" $3.0 $60.0

"Identity" $2.6 $49.2

"Anger Management" $2.4 $131.8 Source: Exhibitor Relations Co Los Angeles Times

*--*

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