$3 mil bow, by ‘George’

Buena Vista’s “George of the Jungle” slammed into 2,391 theaters Wednesday night, grossing a stronger-than-expected $3.27 million to lead the daily box office.

The live-action kidpic’s entry into the marketplace appeared to take a chunk out the midweek grosses of several holdovers, including Disney’s own “Hercules.”

Sony’s “Men in Black,” which has ruled the B.O. since it opened on July 2, landed in second place with $3.16 million, off 48% from the previous Wednesday. At No. 3, Warner Bros.’ “Contact” picked up $2.57 million.

Swinging onto more screens

“George” expands its run to 2,506 theaters today, when BV’s “Nothing to Lose” and Miramax’s “Operation Condor” also bow.

BV execs declined to project what “George” might do over the Friday-Sunday frame, but based on historical data, the picture seems on track to pull in somewhere between $14 million and $16 million.

While family films rarely debut on the Wednesday of a summer non-holiday frame, there are some precedents. Last year’s “Harriet the Spy” and “Kazaam” had respective three-day grosses totaling 4.1 and 4.8 times their Wednesday takes.

If “Men in Black” drops 41% from the previous frame — as it did last weekend — it would pick up $17.7 million for the weekend.

“I give them credit for a good opening but we’re reasonably confident we’ll beat them on the weekend when a wider audience is available,” said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing.

Slamming the competish

“George” clearly had a negative effect on many of its competitors, but who got hurt the most depends on how you look at the numbers.

On Wednesday, “Hercules” dropped 44% from a week earlier, whereas Monday (without “George” in the market) the animated feature saw only a 35% drop. That could be seen as evidence that “George” stole 9% of “Herc’s” business.

“Men in Black’s” Wednesday drop of 48% was actually less than Monday’s 53%.

On the other hand, notes BV distribution president Phil Barlow, “Hercules” fell off only 1% from Monday to Wednesday, while “Men in Black” was down 10%, “Contact” was off 7% and “Face/Off” was down 8%.

“I’m not saying ‘George of the Jungle’ did not have an effect on business,” said Barlow, “but it appears that ‘Men in Black,’ ‘Contact’ and ‘Face/Off’ were hurt more than ‘Hercules.’ “

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