‘Black’ jackpot worth $84.1 mil

Col pic zaps competish in holiday frame

Delivering on the nearly intergalactic hype that preceded its opening, Columbia Pictures’ “Men in Black” collected an estimated $51 million over the three-day weekend, likely setting a new Independence Day frame record.

Final weekend B.O. figures will be released today.

Since it landed in theaters Tuesday evening at 8 p.m., the Barry Sonnenfeld-helmed sci-fi comedy has rounded up a massive $84.1 million, according to studio estimates.

That’s the second-highest five-day haul in history, behind “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” ($98.4 million).

While “Black” is in second place for five-day totals, it’s third for six-day cumes: “Lost” and “Black” had a night of pre-opening previews, which count as the first day’s tally for each pic. “Independence Day” opened without previews, and its cume of six full days passes “Black.”

The Tommy Lee Jones-Will Smith starrer attracted viewers from across the moviegoing universe, according to Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing. “We’re getting young, old, sci-fi fans and African-Americans.”

The picture packed houses in all areas of the county and in markets of all sizes. “Small-town exhibitors are saying it’s the biggest film since the first ‘Batman,’ ” added Blake, who predicted the film would cross the $100 million threshold by Tuesday.

Two other wide releases debuted in “Men in Black’s” shadow:

Fox’s Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau cruise ship comedy “Out to Sea” set sail in sixth place with $5.6 million and Warner Bros.’ teen adventure “Wild America” landed in 10th with a tame $1.8 million.

“MIB” led the overall box office to a $115.1 million total for films grossing over $500,000, off about 5% from last year, when “ID4” blasted off with $50.2 million (currently the holiday record) and “Phenomenon” levitated $16.2 million.

‘Face/Off’ still strong

Last weekend’s B.O. champion, Paramount’s “Face/Off,” enjoyed a strong hold, dipping an estimated 29% to $16.5 million. In 2,637 operating rooms, the John Woo-helmed actioner averaged $6,257.

Considerably less muscular was Buena Vista’s “Hercules,” which fell 42% to $12.4 million. “Herc’s” weekend numbers were weakened by a 52% Friday to Friday drop — July 4 is a traditionally slow moviegoing day — but the picture also fell a significant 37% on Saturday. Even proceeding at that rate, the film would barely top $100 million before running out of steam.

Sony’s “My Best Friend’s Wedding” continued to display the best legs in the marketplace. The Julia Roberts starrer remained in fourth place, off just 27% to $11 million, after expanding its run by 99 theaters.

In its third weekend, WB’s “Batman & Robin” continued its steep descent, dropping 45% to $8.6 million.

‘Sea’ sets sail

While dwarfed by “MIB’s” staggering numbers, “Out to Sea’s” maiden voyage was only slightly less prodigious than those of previous Lemmon-Matthau successes. “Grumpy Old Men” opened to $7.5 million in December 1993, eventually cuming $70.2 million, while its sequel, the December 1995 release “Grumpier Old Men,” grossed $7.8 million in its first four days, and topped out at $71.5 million.

“You have to adjust to a different reality with this kind of picture,” said producer John Davis. “This audience doesn’t rush out on opening weekend. They don’t get there until the second, third or fourth weekend.”

However, in the current cutthroat marketplace, few films have the luxury of playing off slowly. Still, Davis said he was confident exhibitors would continue to play “Out to Sea.”

“The theater owners are very aware of the history of the ‘Grumpies,’ ” said Davis. “They know what you have to do to make this kind of picture work.”

Davis also said he believed Fox’s projected Sunday grosses were too conservative and that the film would wind up with a three-day take of slightly over $6 million.

Among specialized films, Orion’s “Ulee’s Gold” unearthed an estimated $674,000 in 125 locations for a solid $5,392 average. Cume to date is just under $2.2 million.

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