Rookies rocky in bleak week at B.O.

'Yards' withstands 'Next,' 'Skip,' 'Mona' releases

With exhibs and distribs gathering in Las Vegas for this week’s ShoWest, the weekend B.O. offered a casino-style all-you-can-eat buffet favoring quantity over quality.

Warner Bros.’ “The Whole Nine Yards” scored another ugly win, mustering a studio-estimated $7.3 million. Bruce Willis starrer co-produced with Franchise Pictures grabbed a third straight weekend crown, the first three-peat since “Double Jeopardy” last October.

Even three brand new wide players couldn’t distract auds. Paramount’s “The Next Best Thing,” Warners’ “My Dog Skip” and Destination Films’ “Drowning Mona” finished in a No. 2-No. 4 clump that will be sorted out in the actual totals today.

‘Planet’ eclipsed

Sony suffered the worst debut by far with “What Planet Are You From?” Star-studded Mike Nichols-helmed “comedy” tallied $3 million, ranking it No. 13 for the frame. Dismal bow, given production budget north of $50 million, doesn’t exactly portend a profit.

Much like 2000 overall, the weekend featured surprising depth but no sterling performers. The top 10 pics were bunched between $4.1 million and $7.3 million.

Lackluster screen averages suggested a slow weekend, yet the total for all pics will likely equal the $82 million recorded in the same weekend in 1999, according to estimates from ACNielsen EDI.

“Nine” sported an eye-catching 24% drop-off, unusually strong for a comedy with youth appeal. With $38.5 million already in the till, Warners sees a final cume in the neighborhood of $60 million.

‘Nine’ has iron legs

“It’s had unbelievable staying power,” said Jeff Goldstein, senior VP of distribution for Warner Bros. “The demographics suggested a drop-off of 35-40%.”

Another bullish sign for Warners was the healthy result from “My Dog Skip.” In limited release in the sticks for seven weeks, it expanded to 2,331 runs from 21 and totaled $5.9 million.

Based on memoir of childhood by Willie Morris, pic risked following in the G-rated footsteps of wholesome yet ill-fated WB fare “The Iron Giant” and “A Little Princess,” which struggled commercially despite critics’ praise.

“Pun entirely intended, we were an underdog,” quipped director and exec producer Jay Russell. “This is a family film in the truest sense of the word. And we believed that people want to move that way.”

FedEx walks ‘Dog’

Financing of pic is also noteworthy. Fred Smith, co-founder and chairman of FedEx Corp., put up the $7 million cost through his Alcon Entertainment banner. With $6.7 million and counting, “Skip” has already eclipsed the $6.6 million domestic cume of Alcon’s previous effort, “Lost & Found.”

Capitalizing on a weak marketplace, Par placed three films in the top 10: “The Next Best Thing,” “Snow Day” and “Wonder Boys.” Madonna starrer “Next” was perhaps the least dynamic of the trio. Though it finished a narrow second according to estimates, it’s not likely to break Madonna’s two-decade B.O. slump.

The songstress has been touting her grown-up image, even gracing the cover of Good Housekeeping. But while her real-life delivery of a baby held fans rapt, movie auds were less drawn to the concept of her having one with Rupert Everett.

Destination also is playing the part of proud parent, with its third release “Drowning Mona” off to a decent start. Black comedy with a budget reportedly in the teens is on track to at least recoup theatrically after a $5.9 million launch.

‘Ghost’ haunts markets

A few limited releases showed strength, most notably Artisan’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.” Jim Jarmusch-helmed urban tale bowed at 14 Gotham cribs and took in $175,000, or $12,500 per print. It’ll add about a dozen markets March 17.

Fox Searchlight’s “Boys Don’t Cry” continues to age well. In its 22nd weekend, Oscar-nommed drama racked up $450,000 in 183 locations, its widest level to date. Cume is $5.4 million.

USA’s “Agnes Browne” couldn’t cash in on a burst of marketing heralding its relaunch. The 1999 pic went back out onto 21 screens and totaled $50,112, or just $2,386 per site.

As this rather gray first quarter winds down, many showbizzers are awaiting ShoWest’s usual dose of color. Sneak peeks at summer pics can be especially energizing.

One summer hopeful, Disney’s “Shanghai Noon,” made news before the Vegas confab. Mouse House, along with partner Spyglass Entertainment, decided Friday to advance the Jackie Chan actioner from a July 21 slot to May 26, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

That pits “Shanghai” against Par’s “Mission Impossible 2,” which is due to open May 24.

“There’s an enormous amount of money out there that weekend,” reasoned Spyglass co-CEOs Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber. “The picture plays through the roof. Memorial Day is big enough for the two of us.”

(Charles Lyons contributed to this report.)

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