‘Wedding’ rattles Bat cage

U.S. TV deals boom in U.K.

The summer movie season finally shifted into high gear over the weekend, led by the forceful $43.6 million estimated bow of Warner Bros.’ “Batman & Robin.” The fourth installment of the Caped Crusader series spread its wings in 2,934 caves for a commanding $14,860 average.

But it was the upbeat $21.5 million debut of Sony’s comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding” that caught most box office prognosticators by surprise.

Sony’s bold decision to open the Julia Roberts starrer against “Batman” paid off in spades: The film scored the highest opening ever for a romantic comedy, besting Sony’s own 1993 hit “Sleepless in Seattle,” which awoke to $17.2 million and eventually wooed $126.7 million.

Moviegoers, women in particular, apparently were more than ready for an alternative to the chase scenes, explosions and computer-generated creatures that have dominated theaters of late. With its relatively modest $38 million budget, “Wedding” is poised to become the first non-effects-driven hit of the summer. In 2,134 engagements, the P.J. Hogan-helmed pic averaged $10,075.

‘Con Air’ lands in third

The total for all films grossing $500,000 more is estimated at $100.6 million, up 72% from the previous weekend and up 10% from the comparable frame last year.

The season’s first $100 million-plus three-day weekend also got a boost from Buena Vista’s “Con Air,” which landed at No. 3 with $10.2 million, and Universal’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” which devoured $8 million.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox’s “Speed 2: Cruise Control” sank to fifth place, plummeting 55% to $7.2 million in its second weekend.

“Batman & Robin” scored the seventh-highest three-day opening ever, but its debut fell short of its predecessor, “Batman Forever,” which bowed to $52.8 million in 1995, eventually grossing $184 million.

“The last ‘Batman’ had Jim Carrey, who really appeals to young audiences,” said Barry Reardon, WB distribution president. “It also opened against no competition. ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ took some nice business from us.”

Bat-franchise slowing down

Reardon also acknowledged that the Bat-franchise may finally be losing some steam, noting, “This is No. 4, after all.”

Still, Reardon predicted the film would eventually gross about $150 million domestically and as much as $200 million overseas.

Although Warner Bros. doesn’t discuss production budgets, reports of the star-studded special effects extravaganza’s pricetag have ranged from $150 million to more than $200 million.

However, box office receipts are only part of the revenue stream from “Batman” films, which can be counted on for strong video and merchandise sales.

Biggest Roberts opening

“My Best Friend’s Wedding” enjoyed the highest opening of any Julia Roberts film, topping “The Pelican Brief,” which debuted to $16.9 million in December 1993. “When she’s happy and smiling and in love, she’s hard to beat,” said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing.

Blake said Sony prexy and chief operating officer John Calley was supportive of his decision to go head-to-head with “Batman.” “He liked it when he heard it and he’s been supportive the whole way,” said Blake. “He realized it’s not everything to be No. 1.”

Among specialized releases, Orion’s “Ulee’s Gold” took in $296,000 after expanding from seven screens to 33 in the top 20 markets. That’s a glittering $8,975 average; cume after 10 days is $386,000.

Miramax’s “Temptress Moon” waxed its run from five screens to 34, grossing $170,000, or $5,000 per orbit. Cume is $270,000.

In third place, “Con Air” dipped 35% to $10.2 million in 2,941 hangars for a $3,468 average. Cume after 17 days is $67.6 million. While the film is losing altitude faster than last year’s Jerry Bruckheimer-Nicolas Cage collaboration “The Rock,” it appears on course to eventually reach $100 million.

‘Lost’ dropped 36%

“Lost World” dropped 36% to $8 million in 3,080 locations for a $2,597 average. Cume after 32 days is $204.9 million.

In fifth, “Speed 2” dawdled to $7.2 million in 2,672 harbors for a $2,672 average. After its second weekend, the Jan DeBont-helmed actioner has cumed $30.6 million.

New Line’s “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” picked up $1.4 million in 1,329 night spots for a $1,053 average. Down 33%, the Mike Myers comedy has cumed $48.7 million in eight weeks of release.

At No. 7, BV’s “Gone Fishin’ ” floundered 46% to $1.1 million in 1,525 sites, for a $721 average. After its third weekend, the Danny Glover-Joe Pesci comedy has cumed just $16.1 million.

‘Addicted’ tied with ‘Fifth’

Tied for eighth were WB’s “Addicted to Love” and Gaumont and Sony’s “The Fifth Element” with $900,000 each. “Addicted” took a big hit with the opening of rival romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” plunging 68% to $900,000 in 1,401 situations, or $642 per screen. Cume is $32.6 million after one month. “Element” made its money in 1,066 complexes, giving it an $844 average. After 45 days, the Bruce Willis starrer has cumed $59.8 million.

Sony’s “Buddy” took the No. 10 spot with an estimated $825,000. Down 57%, the kidpic rattled around in 1,623 cages for a $508 average. Now in its third week, the film has cumed just $8.9 million.

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