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‘Word’ perfect

Suspenser No. 1 as auds return to theaters

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Don’t Say a Word,” whose title neatly summed up pic’s still-dormant marketing campaign just two weeks ago, used a late-surging promo blitz to top weekend box office with an estimated $18 million.

Boffo bow for New Regency production marked a career-best for topliner Michael Douglas, four days after his 57th birthday and decades into a career of film high points.

Suspenser’s B.O. strength — followed by an $15.7 million opening for Paramount laffer “Zoolander” and a $9.5 million debut for Warner Bros./Castle Rock drama “Hearts in Atlantis” — also repped remarkably renewed vigor in the theatrical marketplace. Grosses had been sluggish for the past two frames, as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted pic postponements and hampered marketing campaigns.

Industrywide, this weekend’s $77 million in estimated total B.O. represented a 17% improvement over a year ago, according to data from box office tracker ACNielsen EDI. “Remember the Titans” topped B.O. in the same sesh last year with a $20.9 million bow.

B.O. was up 29% over a week ago, when Par sandlot drama “Hardball” led a weak field with $8.1 million. With the latest frame, 2001 is 9% ahead of the same period last year at $5.96 billion in total grosses.

“This weekend clearly shows people are ready to go to the movies again,” EDI veep Dan Marks said.

R-rated “Don’t Say a Word” gave Douglas his biggest bow since “A Perfect Murder” opened at $16.6 milion in June 1998. Perf also eases the recent memory of a dismal $2.5 million debut in April for “One Night at McCool’s,” a co-production of Douglas’ Further Films and USA Films.

“Michael Douglas is a movie star, so we saw that as we got into the hinterlands the movie still played well,” Fox distrib boss Bruce Snyder said.

“We really needed to catch up (with ‘Word’ marketing), because we seemed to be getting going from nowhere,” Snyder said. “But concentrating on the last 10 days, we were able to get there.”

“Word” skewed 55% female, with auds roughly split older and younger than age 25.

New Regency produced “Word” for an estimated $50 million, with Fox getting only a distrib fee. Perf was also a personal-best for helmer Gary Fleder (“Kiss the Girls”).

The three openers had been neck-and-neck among the sesh’s likely moviegoers in tracking data supplied to major studios Thursday. But “Word” was showing sudden, late-breaking strength in key demos, likely on the strength of a flurry of TV commercials that ran last week.

Promo synergy

“Zoolander,” which marked topliner-director Ben Stiller’s first time behind the camera since 1996’s “The Cable Guy,” was the only one of the three openers to build early pic awareness among prospective moviegoers. PG-13 fashion industry spoof — spun from a comedy skit on “The VH1 Fashion Awards” — was produced for an estimated $28 million and got heavy promotion over Par affiliates VH1 and MTV.

“We had the trailer out there way in advance as well,” Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen noted.

Pic — which also got pre-release promo help from a Heineken’s beer tie-in, a Details magazine tie-in and countless Stiller press interviews –split evenly male and female, with about half of its patrons under age 25.

Solid debut for “Hearts in Atlantis,” based on loosely connected stories in a Stephen King collection of the same name, followed distrib’s decision to boost theater count from a planned 1,200 to more than 1,700 after highly successful sneaks. Distrib, which had postponed the “Hearts” bow one week due to the terrorist attacks, keyed on radio spots to reach older moviegoers comprising pic’s target auds.

Bow was a career-best for helmer Scott Hicks (“Shine,” “Snow Falling on Cedars”). It’s believed “Hearts” cost Warners’ Castle Rock unit in the low $30 millions to produce.

“We’re happy and hope we’re in for a long run,” Castle Rock prexy Martin Shafer said.

Heartening results

Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman said openers’ healthy grosses were heartening to industry execs.

“It’s interesting how the public has responded,” Fellman said. “They wanted to go to the movies. They wanted to get out of the house.”

Sony Classics drama “Va Savoir” bowed in three Gotham locations Saturday after a Friday preem at the New York Film Festival. Estimated two-day grosses of $47,000 delivered a sesh-best $15,778 per-venue average as pic prepares for an L.A. bow this Friday.

In another limited bow, Providence Entertainment’s extreme-sports adventure “ExtremeDays” grossed an estimated $601,263 from 351 engagements. Perf repped a soft $1,713 per venue.

8X Entertainment’s apocalyptic thriller “Megiddo: The Omega Code 2” added 39 playdates for a total 353 and grossed $1 million, or $2,895 per engagement. Estimated 10-day cume hit $2.8 million.

Miramax used to good effect some 1,250 sneaks for its PG-13 romancer “Serendipity,” set to bow wide on Friday. In addition to drawing 86% capacity for sneaks, “Serendipity” grosses effectively bolstered B.O. for Miramax/Dimension suspenser “The Others.”

It’s standard industry practice to tie sneak showtimes to a pic already in the marketplace, with sneak grosses going to the current-running pic. So — on paper — “The Others” enjoyed a 1% uptick in B.O. at $5.1 million, despite shedding 77 engagements this sesh.

“Serendipity” auds skewed 60% female and 60% 25 and older.

Also bowing this Friday are Fox’s Leelee Sobieski starrer “Joy Ride,” Miramax chopsocky actioner “Iron Monkey,” Disney family pic “Max Keeble’s Big Move” and Lions Gate’s urban laffer “The Wash.”

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