‘Ryan’ holds B.O. beachhead

War tale earns $23 mil; 'Trap' strong

Paramount and DreamWorks’ “Saving Private Ryan” won its second consecutive weekend battle, as audiences continued to storm theaters showing the critically acclaimed war drama. Steven Spielberg’s grisly World War II pic ceded little ground, dropping just 24% to $23.3 million, while fending off attacks from four rookie pics.

With the best second-week hold of any chart-topper this summer, “Ryan” has clearly dug in for the long haul. With $73 million already under its ammo belt, the pic is on target to gross at least $160 million Stateside.

In fact, the nearly three-hour R-rated pic now has a chance, however slim, at becoming the highest-grossing film released so far this year. To accomplish that mission it would have to surpass Buena Vista’s “Armageddon,” which appears on course to top out at about $190 million.

Opening a distant second, Buena Vista’s PG-rated “The Parent Trap” sired a studio-estimated $11.5 million, bringing to $16.6 million the total ticket sales since its Wednesday debut.

Disney execs were bullish on the family pic’s long-term prospects, citing strong exit polls and a lack of upcoming family films competing for “Trap’s” target audience of young families. “I don’t see anything that will stop this film. There’s nothing to get in our way between now and Labor Day,” said Chuck Viane, senior VP of distribution.

Best-case for ‘Trap’

The best-case scenario for “Parent Trap” would be a trajectory similar to that of filmmakers Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer’s 1995 film “Father of the Bride II,” which bowed to $11.1 million, and went on to gross $76.6 million. But a final cume anywhere north of $60 million would be an accomplishment for the film. Very few pictures in today’s crowded megaplex environment finish with more than five times their opening weekend gross.

Third place went to 20th Century Fox’s raunchy comedy “There’s Something About Mary,” which continued to demonstrate formidable staying power.

Dropping just 12% to $11 million in its third weekend, the film has already amassed a solid $60 million in 19 days of release. A final cume of at least $100 million now seems likely for the Cameron Diaz-Ben Stiller starrer which cost just about $25 million to make.

Warner Bros.’ action thriller “The Negotiator” holed up in fourth place with a $10.4 million three-day total and $13.3 million for its first five days, according to studio projections. Execs at rival studios generally put the numbers somewhat lower.

WB distribution topper Barry Reardon said he expected strong word of mouth to keep “The Negotiator” in the running for several weeks to come. He likened it to the July 1996 WB pic “A Time to Kill,” also financed by New Regency, which bowed to $14.8 million and eventually cumed $108.7 million domestically.

Fox’s Drew Barrymore starrer “Ever After: A Cinderella Story” came home from the ball with $8.5 million, tied for fifth place with Sony’s holdover “The Mask of Zorro,” according to the studios’ respective projections. However, most observers expected “Ever After” to edge out “Zorro” once the ticket stubs are counted today.

Females attracted

Predictably, the romance attracted mostly females (70%) and mostly younger people (65% were under 25), according to exit polls. But Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Domestic Film Group, noted that the film received high marks from both older women and older men as well young women, in the surveys.

Only one of the four newcomers failed utterly to find an audience. Universal’s sports comedy “BASEketball,” directed by David Zucker and starring “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, struck out with a foul $3 million.

That put the film in a tie for 11th place with MGM’s “Disturbing Behavior,” which plummeted a staggering 58% in its second weekend. After 10 days, the teen chiller has cumed $13.2 million.

Total ticket sales for the three-day period were estimated at about $118 million, up about 8% from a year earlier.

While overall business remained hot, it cooled slightly from the record highs of last weekend. Weather was at least partly to blame: While rain in the East drove viewers into theaters Friday, clear skies and cool weather kept Eastern Seaborders outside Saturday.

Weather a factor

The weather hit some films harder than others: The climatic changes seemed to have little effect on “Ryan,” for instance, which was up 32% nationwide Saturday over Friday. “The Parent Trap,” on the other hand, saw just a 9% boost Saturday. The family film actually suffered drops in the East Saturday, while in some Western markets it jumped 30% or more.

Given the sheer number of films entering the market as the summer movie season winds down, it’s not surprising the casualty rate is high. Of the seven films opening wide in the last two weeks, three — “Disturbing Behavior,” “Jane Austen’s Mafia” and “BASEketball” — are unlikely to reach $20 million in domestic grosses.

And many more pics are heading our way. By Friday, Miramax/Dimension’s “H20: Halloween” and Paramount’s “Snake Eyes” will both open wide. The following weekend, four pics debut: Fox’s “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” WB’s “The Avengers,” Miramax’s “Airbud 2: Golden Receiver” and Polygram’s “Return to Paradise.” And Warner Bros. recently announced it was moving up its romantic drama “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” to Aug. 28 from September.

Flood not good

The flood of new films isn’t just hurting themselves. The late summer deluge is likely to have an adverse impact on holdovers in coming weeks as theater owners are forced to take older films offscreen prematurely to make way for the onslaught of freshman offerings.

On the arthouse circuit, Artisan’s “Pi” continues to generate big numbers. After adding 15 markets, the Sundance preem grossed $255,000 in 25 locations, or 10,200 per site. The film continues to hold fast in New York, where it was off just 1% at the Angelika Film Center. Cume to date is $606,000.

Newcomers included Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Governess” which took care of $63,000 in six nurseries (five in L.A., one in Gotham), for a $10,505 average. The pic performed particularly well at New York’s Paris theater, where it racked up a projected $30,200.

Miramax’s “Full Tilt Boogie” had two left feet, grossing just $9,500 in six situations in New York, L.A., Dallas, Houston and Austin. Trimark’s “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” slipped a moderate 30% to $82,300 in 11 locations, or $7,481 per engagement.

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