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Alien versus princess

'Alien vs. Predator' continues Fox's streak of $20-million-plus openings. But 'Diaries' may rule in the end.

August 16, 2004|R. Kinsey Lowe | Times Staff Writer

The solid if not spectacular summer of 2004 is winding down, and with the end of summer comes some inevitable jockeying for bragging rights among the studios.

With its latest No. 1 opening for "Alien vs. Predator," 20th Century Fox could make a solid case for its consistency. "Alien vs. Predator" brought to six the number of consecutive opening weekends of $20 million or higher, an industry record. That streak began with "Man on Fire" in April, followed by "The Day After Tomorrow," "Garfield: The Movie," "Dodgeball," "I, Robot" and now "AVP," as Fox marketers have dubbed it.

"AVP," which brought together two horror-film franchises -- and which Fox astutely opted not to screen for critics -- took in an estimated $38.3 million and averaged an impressive $11,267 per theater in its opening weekend.

Fox's president of distribution, Bruce Snyder, said the film outperformed the company's expectations (although rival studios were pretty much on the mark about the film's prospects). Not surprisingly, the opening night audience was 70% male; overall, 55% of ticket buyers were under age 25, Snyder said.

To be sure, the film dropped a whopping 25.6% from Friday to Saturday, suggesting that hard-core fans eager to see it had turned out on opening day and that a big second-weekend drop was likely.

Fox said the movie, based on two of the studio's most famous space meanies, cost about $60 million to make, although The Times reported last week that the studio's investment was nearly $70 million and that various foreign incentives and tax breaks had brought the number down for accounting purposes.

Fox, behind domestic-market-share leader Sony and second-place Warner Bros. for the year, has had slightly fewer home runs than those studios but has consistently hit doubles and triples in a period that has seen relatively few hits out of the park.

Bona-fide megahits "Shrek 2" ($435.6 million), "Spider-Man 2" ($360.9 million) and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" ($245.8 million) are the top three movies of the summer, with Fox's "The Day After Tomorrow" ($185.4 million) coming in fourth and Universal's "The Bourne Supremacy" at No. 5 ($139.4 million). For the year, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" ($370.3 million) is the No. 2 film after DreamWorks' "Shrek 2."

Disney, with its second big opening (last month's "The Village" was the first) after a streak of disappointments, successfully counter-programmed "Alien vs. Predator" with "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." The comedy grossed about $23 million from Friday through Sunday and $37.2 million since it opened Wednesday, putting the Anne Hathaway-Julie Andrews sequel on solid footing against Fox's male-dominated monster mash. The audience for "Diaries 2" was 75% female, according to Chuck Viane, president of distribution for Disney. Business for "Diaries" also climbed about 12% from Friday to Saturday, which may indicate fairly solid staying power for the rest of the summer.

In a year that has seen nearly a dozen such films, the most successful girl movie has been "Mean Girls," which took in $24.4 million in its opening weekend and has grossed $85.9 million to date. With the strong debut of "Diaries 2," it would appear that Hathaway and Lindsay Lohan, who starred in "Mean Girls," are the queens of the teen-girl movie set, although each has also had less stellar outings this year such as "Ella Enchanted" (Hathaway) and "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" (Lohan).

Disney's senior vice president of publicity, Dennis Rice, noted that "The Village," which dropped precipitously last weekend and fell an additional 57% this weekend, was expected to surpass $100 million today, becoming the 44th Disney release to do so, more than any other studio.

Although box office overall has been higher than last year, for a summer that revved up with "Shrek 2," this one appears to have run out of gas over the last couple of weekends, especially when you start to look at the number of tickets sold, as opposed to the dollar figure.

Box office tracking firm Nielsen EDI reports that through Sunday, summer is at about $3.37 billion, up roughly 4.8% over the same period last year.

Ticket sales, however, are at best stagnant from last summer's 642.6 million admissions calculated by competing tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Inc. Even if the summer box office reaches $4 billion, that would still mean admissions would be down roughly 0.41% from summer 2003, which was down nearly 2% from the year before. Ticket sales have not regained the ground lost from the modern record set in summer 2002. That year had Sony and Disney firing on all cylinders, led by the first "Spider-Man" and "Signs" as well as "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" and the surprise runaway indie hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

For the current year to date, according to Nielsen EDI, the total for all films is $6.024 billion, compared with $5.769 billion for the same time last year and $5.989 billion in 2002.

*

(Begin Text of Infobox)

Box Office

Preliminary results (in millions) based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total

*--*

*--* Alien vs. Predator $38.3 $38.3

The Princess Diaries 2 23 37.2

Collateral 16 52.4

Yu-Gi-Oh! 9.4 9.4

The Bourne Supremacy 8.3 139.4

The Village 7 99.7

The Manchurian Candidate 6 48

Little Black Book 3.7 14.6

I, Robot 3.6 133.7

Spider-Man 2 3.4 360.9

*--*

*

Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.

Los Angeles Times

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