News-weary auds play B.O. ‘Hardball’

Grosses above expectations, improvement over 2000

While the major leagues stayed on the sidelines in the wake of terror attacks, Paramount’s sandlot baseball drama “Hardball” took the weekend box office pennant with an estimated $10.1 million.

Bow bested a No. 2 perf by Sony’s “The Glass House,” a young femme-skewing drama that grossed an estimated $6.1 million. Openers fueled a B.O. frame more robust than some had predicted as Americans, many emotionally raw, sought diversion of the silver screen to escape tragic real-life images on living TV sets.

Industrywide, the weekend’s $66 million in total grosses was a 21% improvement over the same frame last year, according to data from box office tracker ACNielsen EDI.

A year earlier this frame, Universal suspenser “The Watcher” topped a weak B.O. field with a $5.8 million opening.

Over the latest sesh, many prospective moviegoers remained glued to television coverage. But there weren’t any further dramatic news developments in the domestic terrorism saga of the sort that could have kept theaters emptier.

Still, Par vice chairman Rob Friedman claimed “Hardball” was hampered by the news environment.

“We believe that we were off by at least a third from what our opening could have been,” Friedman said.

More than 55% of auds for Keanu Reeves starrer were female, with 55% of moviegoers over 25 and 50% of pic’s matinees comprised of family attendance.

“Business was down Friday night because of all the (tragedy) remembrances,” Friedman said. “But business bounced back very strongly on Saturday. So, we’re very happy with the result.”

EDI data showed industrywide grosses grew 61% on Saturday over those for Friday. That compared with a 58% Saturday-over-Friday tilt a year earlier.

Strong Sunday expected

Sunday could prove particularly strong when official figures come in, as the absence of pro football games likely sent many would-be armchair quarterbacks to the movies instead.

Meanwhile, most TV webs have been running news programming free of commercials, so distribs were unable to promo pics. Though that had its obvious downside, some noted that studios also would save on marketing costs as a result.

In a year-to-date comparison, 2001 remains almost 10% ahead of last year with $5.78 billion in total B.O. so far. The balance of this year will bear watching to see if pics pulled from release slates after Tuesday’s tragedy affect year-end tallies.

‘Training’ delayed

Warner Bros. had planned to unspool Denzel Washington starrer “Training Day” next weekend but instead moved it to an Oct. 5 slot abandoned by terrorist-themed “Collateral Damage.” That should help secure pre-release exposure for “Training Day,” but with Disney also pulling laffer “Big Trouble,” only 20th Century Fox’s Mariah Carey starrer “Glitter” will open wide on Friday.

“Early September is typically not the best play period anyway,” EDI’s Borys noted.

Disney’s G-rated Julie Andrews starrer “The Princess Diaries” hit an estimated $100.1 million in domestic cume with $2.6 million in 11th place this weekend. But the Mouse House’s WWII epic “Pearl Harbor,” sent back into wide re-release over Labor Day, is still anchored just south of $200 million.

U’s “The Musketeer” fell a relatively modest 49% this weekend — all things considered — to a third-place $5.3 million. Universal and rights partner Miramax will split domestic and U.K. grosses on “Musketeer,” whose 10-day cume is at $17.6 million. Another soph-sesh pic, Sony Screen Gems’ urban-skewing romantic comedy “Two Can Play That Game,” fell only 39% to a fifth-place $4.7 million. Carrying a slim $6 million negative cost, pic moved cume to $13.9 million.

Warner Bros. heavy-metal drama “Rock Star” grossed an estimated $3.5 million after a 41% drop in 10th place. Warners is getting only a distrib fee on the $38 million Bel Air Entertainment production, whose 10-day cume hit an estimated $11.2 million.

No body to ‘Soul’

Artisan suspenser “Soul Survivors,’ another second-week holdover, dropped 52% to $550,000. Ten-day cume on pic — whose cost is estimated at about $15 million — hit $2 million.

Among limited releases, Fox Searchlight suspenser “The Deep End” added 11 theaters for a total 412 and grossed $751,000. That repped a shallow $1,823 per engagement but brought its cume to a splashy $6.9 million.

Paramount Classics’ “Our Lady of the Assassins,” a drama set in Medellin, Colombia, grossed $54,000 from a dozen venues for an average $4,500 per location.

Sony Classics laffer “Haiku Tunnel” grossed $39,341 from seven locations for an average of $5,620 per site.

And United Artists’ dark laffer “Ghost World” added 11 playdates for a total 102 in grossing $374,000, or an average $3,667 per venue. Cume hit $4.2 million.

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