'Blonde' a $20 mil bombshell; 'Score' soars, 'Fantasy' falters

This article was corrected on July 18, 2001.

MGM laffer “Legally Blonde” was, like, totally No. 1 this weekend with an overachieving $20.4 million bow that made pre-frame predictions of box office supremacy for Sony’s much-hyped “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” seem hair-brained.

“Final Fantasy,” a computer-animated vidgame adaptation, finished a limp No. 4 after failing to build on a strong Wednesday debut. The $115 million production by Japan’s Square Pictures grossed a disappointing $11.5 million over the weekend.

Reese Witherspoon starrer “Blonde” also brushed off a big B.O. haul for Paramount/Mandalay heist pic “The Score,” which hauled away an impressive $19 million on the weekend.

“That was definitely on the high end of our expectations,” Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen noted.

It’s believed Par paid about $18 million to score domestic distribution and some foreign rights to “The Score,” a $68 million production by Mandalay Pictures.

Toplined by Robert De Niro, Ed Norton and Marlon Brando, Frank Oz-helmed “The Score” tied up adult moviegoers, while MGM’s tale of a ditzy wannabe lawyer played more broadly than the young femmes it courted.

“The hope is that with good word of mouth this can be one of the surprise hits of the summer,” said Bob Levin, the Lion’s recently appointed head of marketing and distribution.

Second-week perf will depend in part on how “Blonde” stacks up against bowing Julia Roberts starrer “America’s Sweethearts” from Sony/Revolution Studios.

Peroxide pic’s opening repped Lion’s biggest comedy bow ever and its best non-sequel of any kind. “Blonde” was produced for under $20 million.

“Our intention was to have fun,” said helmer Robert Luketic (“Titsiana Booberini”). “This picture just seems to make you smile, and there’s not a whole lot out there that does that right now.”

Another one that does — Warner Bros.’ family laffer, “Cats & Dogs” –finished No. 3 on the frame. “C&D” scratched out a $12 million soph sesh, thanks to a 45% drop less severe than those felt by other recent releases in second weekends.

By contrast, Warners’ “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” continued to drop like a pet rock. Steven Spielberg-helmed scifi fantasy, “A.I.” cost an estimated $100 million to produce, sunk another 63% to $5.1 million (after a 52% fall-off in its second weekend) and inched cume to $70 million.

Disappointing perf

Warner distrib prexy Dan Fellman said “A.I.” likely will finish somewhere north of $80 million domestically. Noting pic started as a project of the late Stanley Kubrick, Fellman said moviegoers have viewed it as a more challenging film of the Kubrick variety than as a commercial, Spielberg type of pic. So, it’s notable, he reasoned, that “A.I.” already has outdistanced the late filmmaker’s final release, “Eyes Wide Shut,” which grossed $55.7 million domestically in 1999 following a July debut.

Meanwhile, Miramax’s horror spoof “Scary Movie 2″ and 20th Century Fox’s martial-arts actioner “Kiss of the Dragon” joined the summer trend toward big second-week drops with declines of 54% and 56%, respectively. “Scary 2″ finished No. 5 with an estimated $9.5 million, and “Kiss” was No. 8 with $5.8 million.

“Final Fantasy,” which reviewers touted for its realistic animation and slammed for a by-the-numbers script, didn’t have to wait until its second weekend to disappoint.

Pic failed to match its $5 million Wednesday gross on any single day over the weekend. Out-of-school fans of the vidgame — many too young to hold summer jobs — flocked to theaters mid-week, leaving too few others anxious to view the film by week’s end.

‘Fantasy’ flags

“I guess we had something of a first-day rush,” Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake said.

It’s believed Sony paid about $50 million for domestic distribution on “Fantasy” and most worldwide rights outside of Japan. Pic opened at No. 2 in Hong Kong and No. 1 in Malaysia and Singapore this weekend.

Industrywide, grosses amounted to a third straight frame that’s under-performed the same weekend a year ago. The $119 million in total B.O. over the latest sesh reps a 22% decline from a year ago, when Fox actioner “The X-Men” opened at $54.5 million.

A year-to-date comparison shows 2001 still almost 6% ahead of last year with $4.14 billion in total B.O., according to data from box office tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Universal, which bows high-profile dino sequel “Jurassic Park III” on 3,000-plus screens Wednesday, crossed the $200 million threshold with action sequel “The Mummy Returns” this weekend. Some $460,000 in new B.O. brought pic’s cume to $202 million.

“Mummy Returns” thus becomes the second such domestic perf this year, joining DreamWorks’ toon smash “Shrek.” Though slipping from the top 10 this weekend for the first time in its nine weeks of release, “Shrek” took in another $3.6 million to move cume to $247.3 million.

‘Made’ up and coming

In a limited bow, Artisan’s mob laffer “Made” strong-armed patrons in a pair of L.A. theaters and one Gotham location for an estimated $118,500. Boffo $39,500 per-venue average comes a week before “Made” makes it into 10 major markets.

Miramax laffer “The Closet” added 27 engagements for a total 43 in racking $300,000, or a fab $7,000 per playdate. Cume hangs at $788,000 with “Closet” set to add 30-40 additional theaters Friday.

Fox Searchlight’s black comedy “Sexy Beast’ added 45 locations for a total 179 and grossed $505,000, or $2,821 per venue, as cume hit $3.9 million.

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