Studio blames recent news scare for low B.O.

Warner Bros.’ rogue-cop drama “Training Day” put a choke-hold on box office competish for a second straight weekend, as MGM claimed that the nation’s most recent news scare pinched opening grosses for heist laffer “Bandits.”

“Training Day,” a Denzel Washington starrer co-produced with Village Roadshow, grossed an estimated $13.5 million over the latest frame.

That repped a 40% drop from the previous weekend. But Warners said the decline was most severe on Friday and also suggested the day’s breaking news about anthrax contamination may have undermined B.O. a bit. MGM expressed major disappointment with the estimated $13.4 million bow for “Bandits.”

“We were really, really affected by the current events,” Lion marketing and distrib topper Bob Levin claimed. “It was like a blizzard. People weren’t locked in their houses, but they stayed in just the same.”

Toplined by Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett, “Bandits” tracked much more strongly in prerelease surveys than it ultimately performed, Levin said.

It’s believed co-prod with Hyde Park Entertainment cost in the high $70 millions to make, with MGM and co-prod partner using a complicated formula for dividing domestic grosses. On foreign distribution, the Lion has U.K. rights and Hyde Park/Epsilon holds most other territories.

Levin also cited a big Saturday improvement over opening night grosses as evidence auds were put off by Friday’s news reports about anthrax outbreaks in New York and elsewhere.

By contrast, Disney execs said they were pleased with the estimated $9.3 million debut in third place for “Corky Romano,” a laffer toplined by “Saturday Night Live” trouper Chris Kattan. Touchstone production carried an estimated $11 million negative cost.

“We’re staring at making money after the first weekend, so everybody here is smiling,” distrib prexy Chuck Viane said.

Not so at MGM, where execs watched in dismay Friday as Willis’ taped appearance on the “Good Morning America” TV show was canceled due to anthrax-outbreak coverage. And later that morning, topliner’s appearance on the “Live with Regis and Kelly” program was interrupted by an anthrax news bulletin.

Willis’ “GMA” spot is now set to air today and pic’s other thesps will be on the promo stump this week as well. Lion execs hope appearances will stoke good soph-sesh B.O., but “Bandits” faces three wide openers next weekend — DreamWorks’ Robert Redford starrer “The Last Castle,” Sony’s Drew Barrymore vehicle “Riding in Cars with Boys” and 20th Century Fox’s Johnny Depp-toplined “From Hell.”

Elsewhere this weekend, Miramax enjoyed a solid soph sesh with romancer “Serendipity.” John Cusack-Kate Beckinsale starrer’s estimated $9 million in weekend grosses was good for fourth place, as “Serendipity” marked a fortuitously modest 33% fall-off from opening frame.

Distrib also debuted newly restored martial arts actioner “Iron Monkey,” grabbing sixth place with an estimated $6 million. Miramax paid a nominal pickup fee to acquire 1993 pic and spent about $2 million to restore it.

There were no immediate plans to expand from Mandarin-language pic’s 1,225-theater bow.

“This was about just bringing this picture to an audience,” marketing veep David Kaminow said.

Industrywide, weekend’s $85.5 million in estimated total grosses repped a 1% uptick from the same frame last year, according to data from B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Since Labor Day, fall 2001 has rung up some $577 million in total B.O., about 9% more than the same period of last year. In a year-to-date comparison, ’01 is also 9% ahead of 2000 at $6.19 billion.

It’s hard to find much impact from the nation’s recent news events in those comparisons. But EDI prexy Tom Borys said the latest frame probably was hurt a bit by the downbeat news developments.

“The over 25 audience may have been less inclined to go to the movies this weekend,” Borys allowed.

Among limited releases this week, Universal’s David Lynch-helmed “Mulholland Drive” grossed $708,000 from 68 theaters in 15 markets for a turbocharged $10,415 per venue. Noirish suspenser, which drove cume to an estimated $785,000 after unspooling Oct. 8, expands to 200 locations in 80 markets Friday.

Paramount Classics laffer “My First Mister” grossed $105,000 in an initial 33 engagements in 10 cities, repping $3,200 per playdate. Albert Brooks/Leelee Sobieski starrer expands to top 20 markets Friday.

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