B.O. bowl estimates point to five-way tie

The B.O. battle for Super Bowl weekend preeminence began well before kickoff time Sunday, as five films vied for the three-day championship atop a generally listless theatrical marketplace.

By most accounts, the odds-on B.O. favorites appeared to be Sony’s seven-week-old holdover ”Jerry Maguire” and Buena Vista sophomore ”Metro,” with disinterested box office observers divided over which would take home the weekend trophy.

Sony estimated ”Jerry Maguire’s” take at $5.9 million, while BV predicted ”Metro” would tie ”Maguire” for the top spot but offered a more conservative dollar estimate. ”We believe ‘Metro’ and ‘Jerry Maguire’ are tied at $5.6 million,” said BV distribution president Phil Barlow. ”If anybody says they did more, they’re inaccurate.”

Sony also projected a $5.9 million weekend for its sophomore comedy ”Beverly Hills Ninja,” and New Line reported the same number for its freshman ”In Love and War.”

BV predicted its Golden Globe winner ”Evita” would finish the weekend at $5.5 million, but Barlow added that he believed ”Evita” was locked in a three-way tie with ”In Love and War” and ”Beverly Hills Ninja.” Distribution execs at rival studios generally agreed that the three films were indeed running neck-and-neck and slightly behind ”Metro” and ”Maguire.”

”We’re perfectly happy to call it a five-way tie,” said Jeff Blake, Sony Pictures Releasing president.

But BV’s Barlow was considerably less conciliatory about the higher numbers reported by his competitors: ”This is ridiculous today, and for what? If you’re going to lie, at least lie when it’s important.”

Notably absent from the top five films were two of the weekend’s three wide newcomers: Universal’s ”Fierce Creatures” scratched out an estimated $4 million to land at No. 7, while Rysher and MGM’s family pic ”Zeus and Roxanne” washed ashore in tenth with $2.9 million.

BV’s track star biopic ”Prefontaine” was slow out of the starting blocks, scoring just $320,000 in 201 races for a poky $1,592 average. Miramax’s Czech film ”Kolya,” which took the Golden Globes’ foreign-language film award last week, opened to $36,000 on three screens in New York and L.A. for a sturdy $12,000 average.

Castle Rock and Sony’s ”Hamlet” spirited away $475,000 after expanding from three theaters to 56, giving the four-hour Kenneth Branagh-helmed adaptation a solid $8,482 average.

‘Hamlet’ takes its time

Sony is employing an extremely slow rollout of the picture, which spent a month in its N.Y.-L.A.-Toronto exclusives. The studio is modeling the release after Sony Pictures Classics’ successful 1992 release of ”Howards End,” according to Sony Pictures Releasing president Jeff Blake. ”Howards End” eventually grossed $26 million domestically.

Paramount’s ”Mother” dropped 5% to $2.5 million, despite a 63% expansion from 380 to 621 locations. With an average of $4,026 per screen, the Albert Brooks comedy has cumed $8.8 million to date.

Miramax’s Golden Globe dramatic feature winner, ”The English Patient,” was up 2% to $2 million on 615 screens for a $3,252 average; cume is $36.7 million. Fine Line’s ”Shine,” for which Geoffrey Rush earned a best actor Golden Globe, was up 5% to $1.4 million in 314 recital halls for a $4,459 average; cume is $12.6 million.

Overall ticket sales appeared likely to touch down at around $64 million, up only a few percentage points from last year’s Super Bowl weekend.

10 being best

Following are the results for the top 10 films based on studio estimates:

Sony’s ”Jerry Maguire” dropped 10% to $5.9 million in 2,207 situations for a $2,673 average. Cume to date is $110.2 million.

New Line’s ”In Love and War” bowed at $5.9 million in 1,610 field hospitals for a $3,665 average.

Sony’s ”Beverly Hills Ninja” fell 43% to $5.9 million in 2,794 brawls for a $2,112 average. Cume after 10 days is $19.4 million.

BV’s ”Metro” tunneled under 44% to pick up $5.6 million in 2,005 stations for a $2,793 average. Cume is $18.9 million.

BV’s “Evita” took $5.5 million, for $5,413 per screen on 1,116 screens. Cume is $30.6 million.

At No. 6, Miramax/Dimension’s ”Scream” scared up $4.4 million in 1,994 haunted houses for a $2,206 average. Off 31%, the Wes Craven-helmed horror pic has cumed $65 million in 38 days of release.

Paramount’s ”The Relic” dropped 41% to $4.1 million in 2,128 museums for a $1,927 average. Cume after three weekends is $25.4 million.

In seventh place, U’s ”Fierce Creatures” earned a tame $4 million in 1,593 cages for a $2,511 average.

Turner and New Line’s ”Michael” dipped 38% to $3.7 million in 2,206 situations for a $1,677 average. Cume after 33 days is $76.2 million.

The Rysher-produced/MGM-distributed ”Zeus and Roxanne” took in $2.9 million at 1,745 sites for a $1,662 average.

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