Reptiles, Roberts run it up

'Jurassic' sequel, 'Sweethearts' power B.O.

Universal’s dino sequel “Jurassic Park III” chomped into $50.3 million in estimated box office and Sony/Revolution Studios’ Julia Roberts-led laffer “America’s Sweethearts” courted a sweet $31 million in an unprecedented combined perf.

Pics’ dual success reps the second time two films have opened north of $30 million. MGM’s James Bond pic “The World is Not Enough” and Paramount’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” bowed at $35.1 million and $30.1 million, respectively, in November 1999.

The weekend’s boffo pair — clearly compatible in terms of their divergent target auds — helped the industry outpace the comparable year-ago frame for the first time in a month. Some $146 million in industrywide grosses repped a 6% uptick from the same weekend last year, according to data from B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Still, the bottom half of the sesh’s top 10 pics displayed gruesome dino hickeys, with none managing to gross over $2,000 per theater. Among those casualties was Sony/Square Pictures’ vidgame spinoff “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” which now reps the summer’s biggest disappointment.

“Final Fantasy” dropped a horrific 69% — from a weak bow last weekend — to $3.5 million in ninth place over the latest frame. Its 12-day cume moved to just $26.7 million.

On the other hand, the weekend’s No. 3 and 4 finishers, MGM laffer “Legally Blonde” and Paramount heist pic “The Score,” held fairly well in their soph frames with grosses of $11.1 million (-46%) and $10.8 million (-43%), respectively.

U execs were enraptured over weekend perf of distrib’s killer-raptors thriller, which built on a solid midweek bow for the $92 million sequel.

“Eighty million dollars over five days — I should have that happen to me once a year,” beamed U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco.

A long shadow

U marketing boss Peter Adee built the “JPIII” campaign around ads highlighting pic’s flying dinos. In at least one case, U even persuaded a newspaper to run the shadow of such a creature over its stock-market tables.

“The challenge was to tell the audience what was new about the third picture,” Adee said. “So, we had an edgier campaign with more attitude, and we tried to emphasize the flying dinosaurs.”

“JPIII” was exec produced by franchise creator Steven Spielberg and helmed by Joe Johnston (“Jumanji”). Its bow was bigger than that of the 1993 original ($47.1 million) but shy of Friday-Sunday totals for “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” ($72.1 million), which opened over 1999’s long Memorial Day weekend.

“JPIII” grosses spiked on Saturday, when 58% of evening auds were comprised of adults over 25. Exit interviews showed lots of parents accompanied kids, which ensured pic of playing broadly.

U’s Rocco said the broad demos bode well for pic’s long-term playability.

“I’m not complacent, but obviously it’s a hit,” she said. “When you do this kind of business in five days, it’s going to have legs.”

‘Sweethearts’ dating

Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake also touted the prospects for “Sweethearts” as a long-playing release. “What the market has needed is a great date movie, and I think we’ve got it,” Blake said. “In the world of romantic comedies, these are box-car type numbers. It’s a genre that’s notoriously tough to open, but it has a great history of holding.”

Pic’s showing validates Sony/Revolution’s somewhat risky release strategy of going head-to-head with the dinos.

“Sweethearts,” which repped the second-best opening ever for Roberts after 1999’s “Runaway Bride” ($35 million), also stars Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack.

“Did Julia Roberts help us? — there’s no question,” Revolution Studios partner Tom Sherak observed. “But I think one of the things that clicked was the ensemble cast.”

“Sweethearts” skewed 55% female, with 55% of auds over age 25 in Friday night exit interviews.

By comparison, the year-ago frame saw DreamWorks thriller “What Lies Beneath” top B.O. rankings with a $29.7 million bow, followed by the $19.6 million debut for Warner Bros. kidpic “Pokemon: The Movie 2000.”

Spirited ‘Ghost’ bow

Meanwhile, the latest weekend’s best per-theater average was delivered by limited opener “Ghost World,” a black comedy from MGM’s United Artists specialty unit. “Ghost World” scared up $101,000 in two venues each in Gotham and L.A. and one in Seattle a week before expanding into seven additional markets.

Fine Line’s singing-transsexual musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” measured $153,000 in nine Gotham and L.A. engagements, or an upbeat $17,000 average. “Hedwig” also expands to top-10 markets Aug. 3.

“Brother,” a Japanese actioner from Sony Classics, grossed $63,051 in 11 Gotham and L.A. locations for an acceptable $5,732 average a week before moving into top-10 cities.

Artisan’s mob laffer “Made” made good with an expansion from three theaters to 19, grossing an estimated $270,000, or an impressive $14,200 per venue. Jon Favreau-helmed pic, in which he stars with Vince Vaughn, hits a full 100 locations next weekend.

Fox Searchlight’s black comedy “Sexy Beast” added 10 engagements this weekend for a total of 189 and grossed $392,000, or $2,075 per venue. Six-week cume reached a sexy $4.5 million.

Primate power

Year-to-date, 2001 is almost 6% ahead of last year at $4.38 billion, with industry insiders eagerly awaiting the impact of next weekend’s saturation release of 20th Century Fox’s “Planet of the Apes.” Tim Burton-helmed update of the classic pic played particularly well in recent exhib screenings.

A big “Apes” bow would provide important late-summer B.O. momentum. “This is where we started to slow down last summer,” EDI prexy Tom Borys.

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