Upside for ‘Down’

Prinze starrer edges 'Friday' to top B.O.

Unlike its major studio rivals, Miramax doesn’t salivate every Memorial Day or ask Santa annually for boffo Christmas B.O.

Instead, the minimajor picks its commercial spots, often succeeding at times when foes are in retrenchment. And it seems to gain momentum every awards season.

Case in point was victory on Golden Globes weekend for the Freddie Prinze Jr. romantic comedy “Down to You,” which edged out New Line’s reigning champ “Next Friday,” according to estimates. The slim margin of $8.3 million to $8.2 million prompted the predictable name-calling, with only today’s actual figures apt to settle the score.

Aggressive start

If the numbers hold, it’ll be the first weekend crown for a Miramax pic since last January, when the Prinze starrer “She’s All That” scooped up $16.1 million en route to a $63.4 million final tally. With “Scream 3” bowing Feb. 4 and “Reindeer Games” opening wide three weeks later, Disney’s indie arm is coming out of the gate aggressively after a spotty 1999.

Elsewhere on the chart for the ho-hum frame, Universal’s “The Hurricane” rang up $7 million and held up better than any other wide release, dipping just 22% to retain the No. 3 spot. Sony’s “Stuart Little” followed with $6.5 million and Warner Bros.’ leggy “The Green Mile” added $5.5 million to its $109.7 million cume.

Overall business was slack, with snow and ice across the Midwest and East hampering many grosses. Estimates for the top 10 pics totaled $55.4 million, down 3% from $57 million in the same frame in 1999.

“Down to You,” the feature debut of writer-director Kris Isacsson, portrays peaks and valleys experienced by a college-age couple played by Prinze and Julia Stiles. It made no bones about its target aud: teen females.

Hitting its target

“This is a movie that we made for teen audiences and people voted with their pocketbooks,” said Miramax marketing prexy Dennis Rice. “These numbers prove that Freddie Prinze Jr. is a major star.”

Rice declined to specify pic’s negative cost, but described P&A as “modest.” Based on its three-day launch, the minimajor’s beancounters should be up on “Down.”

The third time could also bring another B.O. charm, as Miramax is in post-production on the Prinze pic “Boys and Girls,” which also stars Claire Forlani. Its release date hasn’t been set.

New Line distrib chief David Tuckerman had to say it was a good day, as the Ice Cube song goes. “Next Friday,” which Cube starred in and helped produce, fell just 43%. That’s better than many young-skewing comedies, especially those with appeal for black auds. Tuckerman was hoping for anything below 50%.

Hip-hop comedy sequel also boasted a screen average of $6,979, best of any pic in at least 100 theaters.

“It showed once again that this picture seems to get a broader spectrum of people seeing it,” Tuckerman said.

The 22% drop of “Hurricane” is less impressive when you consider the Denzel Washington starrer gained 647 screens from last weekend. Drama about wrongly imprisoned boxer has racked up $23.4 million to date, still far short of its studio-estimated $38 million production cost.

On the ropes

For another boxing-themed pic, the writing was on the wall. Coming off a four-week, one-screen L.A. engagement that grossed all of $28,000, Disney’s “Play It To The Bone” labored to a ninth-place finish with $3.5 million. Stars Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas failed to lift the poorly reviewed effort from writer-director Ron Shelton.

In expanding from six screens to 610, Paramount’s “Angela’s Ashes” nearly equaled “Bone’s” take, ending up No. 10 with $3.3 million. Adaptation of Frank McCourt’s best-seller has cumed $3.7 million. Par pegs its production cost at $13 million.

A similar expansion of a literary adaptation, Sony’s “The End of the Affair,” didn’t fare as well. Neil Jordan-helmed drama gathered $1.7 million on 686 screens and has grossed $5.1 million.

“Girl, Interrupted” also lost some traction for Sony, sliding from fourth to eighth place. Weekend take of $4.4 million was off 46% from a week ago.

Not to be outdone, MGM managed an even worse drop for a sophomore. Its sci-fi writeoff “Supernova” plummeted 58%, suctioning $2.4 million from unwitting auds to finish 12th in Week 2.

The limited circuit generally lacked verve, with USA Films’ “Topsy-Turvy” notching the most solid outing. Mike Leigh-lensed Gilbert and Sullivan epic widened out to 40 locations from six. Weekend estimate was $387,049, bringing cume to $794,421.

USA also launched a single print of the fully restored Hitchcock classic “Rear Window” at Gotham’s Film Forum. Jimmy Stewart-Grace Kelly suspenser peeped $14,454.

Fox Searchlight’s “Titus” took in $150,000. Adventurous Shakespeare gorefest averaged $8,500 in each of its 17 coliseums.

Most unorthodox release pattern belongs to Warners’ “My Dog Skip.” Family pic added multiple runs in Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas, for a total of 28 playdates. Gross of $120,000 equated to a $4,300 screen average and brought pic’s cume to 182,000.

Mouse House reported $2.1 million for its Imax engagement of “Fantasia 2000.” In 54 North American sites, feature toon averaged $37,963. Worldwide cume is seen at $17.5 million, with three-plus months still booked.

Another Disney toon, “Toy Story 2,” keeps making news. Pic finally fell out of the top 10 in its ninth weekend, but cume reached $231 million to make Pixar-animated sequel the No. 20 all-time grosser, supplanting “The Lost World.”

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