Record ‘Force’ hits B.O.

'Spawn' strong at No. 2

Cruising at a dizzying altitude of $26.2 million, Sony’s “Air Force One” in its second sortie simultaneously set a new August record and lifted the overall box office to a new August weekend high.

Meanwhile, New Line’s “Spawn” swooped into second place with a better-than-expected $20 million, according to studio estimates. “Spawn” hatched an additional $1.5 million in Thursday night previews, bringing its cume to $21.5 million.

Also exceeding industry expectations was 20th Century Fox’s “Picture Perfect.” The Jennifer Aniston starrer grossed $7.5 million in 1,705 galleries for an attractive $4,399 average.

In seventh place, Disney’s canine basketball comedy “Air Bud” sank $4.7 million baskets on 1,674 courts for a $2,808 shooting average.

Meanwhile, Icon and Warner Bros.’ “187” got eighty-sixed. Director Kevin Reynolds’ dark high-school drama grossed a dismal $2 million to land in 12th place. In 1,121 classrooms, the Samuel L. Jackson starrer averaged a bleak $1,784 per site.

Overall box office for the weekend appeared likely to total about $105 million, topping the August record of $102.5 million, set on Aug. 5, 1994, when another Harrison Ford starrer, “Clear and Present Danger,” opened.

“Air Force One’s” second week also was the highest ever for August, besting the $23.8 million opening of Ford’s own “The Fugitive” on Aug. 6, 1993.

Sony, whose films accounted for about 35% of the weekend total, has grossed approximately $440 million since Memorial Day. Nearly $400 million of that comes from just three films: “Men in Black,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “AFO.”

Distribution president Jeff Blake predicted the studio would top $500 million sometime around the Aug. 15 weekend, busting the current summer record of $485 million, set by Buena Vista last year.

‘Spawn’ stats

“Spawn’s” opening was the third highest ever for New Line, behind 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and 1995’s “Mortal Kombat.” However, the film saw a 14% drop Saturday from Friday, indicating the picture will burn itself out quickly. “Mortal Kombat” opened to $23.3 million on Aug. 18, dropping 26% Saturday from Friday, and went on to gross $70.5 million.

New Line marketing and distribution president Mitch Goldman said he doubted the $40 million-budgeted “Spawn” would match “Kombat’s” final gross, but said the film would probably top $50 million.

“There’s no question the Friday-to-Saturday drop stands alone this weekend,” said Goldman. “But the picture is playing through the roof for its core audience, and based on exit polls I expect to see repeat business.”

“Spawn’s” debut, coupled with the surprise success of “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” signals to some a return by New Line to what it does best: lower-budgeted, youth-oriented pictures. But Goldman downplayed that notion: “I would hesitate to say all we know how to do is reach kids.” Instead, he credited the recent successes to “a return to unity within the company,” including the recent appointment of marketing president Cheryl Boone-Isaacs and the promotion of Al Shapiro to president of distribution.

“Picture Perfect” producer Erwin Stoff said he hoped the $18 million film’s sturdy opening would encourage Fox to broaden its advertising support for the release.

Stoff said there had been an ongoing debate between Fox and the filmmakers over whom to target with the ad campaign. “The studio felt the audience was young women under 21. Targeting that group has obviously paid off, but I think there is also a big audience over 21. ‘Friends’ is not the No. 3 show on TV because of just under-21 girls,” Stoff said.

Fox spent about $10 million in P&A to open the film, according to motion picture group chairman Tom Sherak.

‘Company’ bows best in N.Y.

Among specialized releases, Sony Pictures Classics’ Sundance acquisition “In the Company of Men” opened to a macho $81,000 in nine runs. The controversial film fared far better in New York, where it scored an estimated $54,000 in just two theaters, than in L.A., where it picked up just $27,000 in seven spots.

SPC co-president Tom Bernard attributed the disparity to widely differing responses to the film by key critics in the two markets. While the New York Times’ Janet Maslin devoted not one but two positive articles to the film, L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan wrote it off as “a psychological snuff film.”

Miramax’s “Love Serenade” bowed to $51,000 under five balconies in New York and L.A. That gives the Aussie comedy, for which first-time director Shirley Bassett took the 1996 Cannes Camera d’Or award, a $10,200 per-screen average.

‘Guido’ expansion soft

Meanwhile, two specialized expanders performed poorly. After widening its run from six theaters to 29, Paramount’s “Kiss Me Guido” gained just 38% to gross $133,000. That’s an unromantic $4,586 per screen. The picture added theaters in L.A., New York and San Francisco as well as opening in Sacramento, Seattle and San Jose. Cume after three weeks of platform release is $460,000.

Trimark’s “Box of Moonlight” grossed a dim $26,000 after adding three L.A. locations to its single New York run. That’s $6,500 per screen; cume is $47,000.

On the other hand, Miramax’s “Shall We Dance?” continued to kick up its heels, grossing an estimated $500,000 in 74 ballrooms for a graceful $6,757 average. Cume after 24 days is $1.95 million.

The same company’s “Mrs. Brown” earned $440,000 in 57 spots for a majestic $7,719 average. Cume is $1.04 million.

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