Lasting ‘Impact’

'Whisperer' loud at B.O.

DreamWorks and Paramount’s “Deep Impact” remained solidly on course over the weekend, dropping a moderate 43% to $23.3 million. Now in 3,192 theaters, the Mimi Leder-helmed disaster pic has grossed a solid $74 million in just 10 days of release.

Meanwhile, it was one win and one loss for the weekend’s two new wide releases as Buena Vista’s “The Horse Whisperer” galloped away with $14 million and Warner Bros.’ “Quest for Camelot” found only $6.4 million.

In its limited straw poll, 20th Century Fox’s political satire “Bulworth” pulled in $135,000 on two screens.

“Deep Impact’s” dropoff was slightly steeper than Par execs had expected based on strong midweek numbers, but it was still better than average given the pic’s massive $41.2 million reported opening.

“Impact,” the first film of the summer movie season, now appears likely to finish its domestic run at about $120 million. With even brighter prospects for overseas ticket sales, the $80 million-budgeted film looks to be a big moneymaker once TV, video and other ancillaries are figured in.

In second place, the Robert Redford-helmed romance “The Horse Whisperer” shot out of the gate with a sturdy $14 million three-day take, according to studio estimates. In 2,039 stables the pic kicked up a $6,866 per-screen average. The number is particularly good given the film’s hefty two hour and 44 minute running time.

In line with most expectations, “Horse” audiences skewed female and older, according to preliminary exit poll data. However, “it was not as disproportionate as some people would think,” according to Phil Barlow, BV distribution prexy, who estimated about a 55%-45% female-male split.

Business was very strong Friday, but the 28% increase Saturday was slightly less than might be expected for a film appealing to mature auds. BV chose to spread the pic’s 2,039 runs over a large number of markets, penetrating deep into the nation’s small towns rather than saturating big cities. “We believed the film could do business in smaller towns where most pictures don’t,” said Barlow.

The strategy appeared to pay off. The opening easily topped the $10.5 million debut of Warner Bros.’ “The Bridges of Madison County,” on 1,805 screens in June 1995. “Bridges” held up very well, finishing with $71.5 million in North America. The two pictures are often compared because both are adaptations of bestselling romantic novels set in rural America, and feature an older star/director in the male lead.

Warner Bros. had considerably less success with its much-heralded entry into feature animation, “Quest for Camelot.” The studio projected the cartoon take on the Arthurian legend would gross a disappointing $6.4 million. Rival studio execs put the number at well below $6 million.

WB distribution chief Barry Reardon said the opening was probably hurt by mediocre reviews and a pre-vacation release date.

On the bright side, exit poll data indicated “Quest” was well received by its audiences of mostly children and parents. Sixty-three percent of males and 67% of females said they would definitely recommend the film to others. Girls in the audience outnumbered boys by nearly two to one.

Reardon said he believed the grosses might improve in future weeks as the school year ended for more children. “It’s not a question of them not liking the picture,” he said. “Some animated movies take a little time to get going.”

Fox’s “Bulworth” got off to a strong start, grossing $135,000 in two theaters, or $67,500 per site. The studio decided to give the Warren Beatty-helmed pic an exclusive sendoff in L.A. and New York, postponing its wide release until May 22. The film will now go head-to-head with Sony’s “Godzilla,” which bows on the evening of May 19.

However, the limited opening said little about the film’s overall prospects.

“The extra week’s going to help a lot,” said 20th Domestic Film Group chairman Tom Sherak. “Even with ‘Godzilla’ opening as big as it’s going to, it will be a big weekend for everyone.”

In other news, Miramax reported that after 156 days in release, “Scream 2” passed the $100 million mark Saturday.

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