'Spider,' 'Last Dance' boost numbers

What a difference a change in the calendar makes.

Universal, which saw such consistent box office success last year, is a mere also-ran in 2001 market-share rankings. The studio finished the first quarter in last place among majors, and the pattern has continued into the second quarter. In 2000, U was barely beaten by Disney for year-end market share, grossing a studio-record $1.09 billion, or 14.6% of the domestic market, compared with the Mouse House’s $1.1 billion, or 14.7%.

But this year’s top domestic grosser to date has been Paramount, whose current hit “Along Came a Spider” builds on previous 2001 successes including teen romancer “Save the Last Dance.”

“That’s a film that outperformed our expectations, without question,” Par vice chairman Rob Friedman observed.

If “Spider,” “Last Dance” and Chris Rock starrer “Down to Earth” all hit their marks and then some, Par also can be credited for releasing a handful of significant pics in a traditionally slow theatrical period, including a more middling performer, “Enemy at the Gates.”

The studio thus has succeeded by embracing the California lottery’s creed — you can’t win if you don’t play.

Taking opportunity

“We think the first quarter is a great opportunity,” Friedman said. “Business is very healthy through the months of January and February, and then March starts a spring-break boost continuing in April with Easter. We also had very good product and are very happy with the results.”

In B.O. tallies through Sunday, Par — which further enhanced its total with holiday holdover “What Women Want” — has grossed $301.1 million, or 15% of the total domestic market.

U has fallen behind several smaller companies in the latest rankings, with less than $66.7 million in total domestic grosses for a 3% market share.

Distrib topper Nikki Rocco noted U’s release sked has been light to date and predicted its 2001 slate will prove highly successful by year’s end.

Wrapped up in ‘Mummy’

“We’re really optimistic about the whole year,” Rocco said. She touted upcoming releases, including the May 4 bow of “The Mummy Returns,” as looming large for the studio.

“We happened to have a light load for the second quarter, but we’re very optimistic,” she said.

“Head Over Heels” — U’s single wide release in the first quarter — tanked. Romantic laffer grossed a total $10.4 million domestically.

The studio has also entered the second quarter on a downbeat note. Its “Josie and the Pussycats” bowed poorly over the weekend, with $4.6 million in three-day grosses.

U takes some solace in reaping a share of profits from “The Silence of the Lambs” sequel “Hannibal,” which it co-produced with domestic distrib MGM.

Dream state

Meanwhile, DreamWorks, which copped a best pic Oscar for last year’s “Gladiator,” has been another recent laggard. But it, too, has been done in largely by a skimpy release slate to date.

DreamWorks’ sole 2001 bow, the Brad Pitt / Julia Roberts starrer “The Mexican,” has been a modest success. Hijinks actioner has grossed $65 million domestically since March 2. The studio’s total year-to-date B.O. is only a bit higher, at $66.7 million, or a 3% market share.

Warner Bros. is the year’s No. 2 performer so far, with a total $241.2 million, or almost 12% of the market.

Distrib prexy Dan Fellman said the studio still believes in releasing a full slate of movies bell-to-bell in any given year and suggested that’s in line with its parent’s corporate philosophy.

“AOL Time Warner believes in content, and we’re trying to do the job and provide them and theater owners as much quality film product as possible,” Fellman noted.

Sony has rung up $228.6 million in 2001 B.O. with a third-place year-to-date market share of 11%. Much of the credit for that perf goes to its “The Wedding Planner” romancer, which has grossed $60.2 million since its Jan. 26 bow.

Lion stays in den

MGM/UA is another middleweight contender in theatrical fisticuffs year-to-date. But its No. 4 perf reps a big improvement, as the Lion practically sat out last year with a release sked both light and limp.

In 2001, MGM/UA has ridden its split-rights smash “Hannibal” and minimal additional B.O., including grosses from cyberthriller “Antitrust,” to a total $209 million through Sunday, good for a 10% market share.

Disney unit Miramax is poised at No. 5 in year-to-date B.O. rankings, thanks in part to its Dimension Films genre label. Last weekend, Dimension’s “Spy Kids” topped three-day B.O. perfs for the third straight frame, even as Miramax steered split-rights release “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to a successful domestic bow in third place over the Easter sesh.

Disney itself sits two positions back at No. 7 so far on the year with a total $161 million, or an 8% market share. Twentieth Century Fox takes the No. 6 spot with $167.3 million.

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