‘Rush’ buddies spank monkeys

Chopsocko laffer cops $66 mil; 'Princess' perky

“Apes” slipped on a banana peel tossed by Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan over the weekend.

New Line’s “Rush Hour 2,” which reteams the frenetic duo as pan-Pacific cops equally prone to slapstick and chopsocky, rode the diamond lane to box office supremacy this weekend with a $66.8 million opening. As a result, 20th Century Fox’s “Planet of the Apes” fell a steep 58% to finish No. 2 with $28.5 million.

Action comedy’s boffo bow was New Line’s best ever and the biggest August opening in history. Perf follows “Rush Hour 2” paydays of $20 million and $15 million for Tucker and Chan, respectively, that substantially padded sequel’s production costs.

Budget ran well more than twice that of the original’s estimated $35 million negative cost at an estimated $90 million. But sequel’s estimated opening was also more than twice that of original “Rush Hour,” which bowed in September 1998 at $33 million, and virtually guaranteed a third installment.

“I hope this will translate into No. 3,” producer Arthur Sarkissian said Sunday. “I’m sure it will.” As for whether Tucker, Chan and helmer Brett Ratner can be secured for another sequel, he added, “I’m hoping — you don’t break up a winning team.”

Industrywide, the weekend’s $170 million in total B.O. — a 32% boost over the same frame a year ago — reps the best-grossing three days ever for a nonholiday weekend, according to data from box office tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2001 is 7% ahead of last year. EDI prexy Tom Borys said boffo sesh also makes it more likely the current summer will surpass 1999 as the best summer ever.

“I think there’s enough momentum in the business now that — unless the wheels just fall off — we should stand a chance of exceeding 1999,” Borys said.

Industrywide B.O. office totals $2.2 billion so far this summer, compared with $2.11 billion for the same period in ’99, when the season’s total B.O. reached $2.79 billion through Labor Day.

Disney’s “The Princess Diaries,” a G-rated adventure starring Julie Andrews, finished No. 3 on the weekend with an estimated $23.2 million in B.O. that well exceeded expectations. Distrib hopes overachiever — an estimated $26 million production — will display sturdier legs than other summer releases to date.

The frame’s other wide opener — MGM period melodrama “Original Sin” — was roughly on target with modest pre-release hopes, grossing an estimated $6.4 million over the weekend for sixth place. Antonio Banderas/Angelina Jolie starrer was delayed from a planned first-quarter bow to draft off Jolie’s “Tomb Raider” success but then was excoriated by reviewers for creative misdeeds.

This weekend’s bow by “Rush Hour 2” reps the sixth-best preem of all time.

‘Rush’ a New Line remedy

Perf also means New Line already has grossed more with the action comedy than distrib managed with any of its 25 releases since “Austin Powers 2.” Laffer sequel, released in June 1999, grossed a total $205.4 million domestically.

“We knew we had a successful picture, but we were hoping it would be successful as a date movie,” said New Line theatrical marketing prexy Russell Schwartz.

Pic seems to have succeeded in that quest, Schwartz said, as its biggest grosses came on Saturday — date night. Demos were also date-pic broad, with auds 52% male and 55% under 25. “Basically, everything went right,” distrib prexy David Tuckerman said.

Universal’s youth-oriented “American Pie 2” will likely bite into “Rush Hour 2” auds next weekend. But New Line execs hope “Rush Hour 2” still will manage a decent hold by playing younger and older than “American Pie 2,” an R-rated gross-out laffer.

Other wide releases for the upcoming frame include Warner Bros.’ animated/live-action laffer “Osmosis Jones” and Miramax’s psycho-thriller “The Others.”

‘Apes’ apes summer trend

“Apes,” a Tim Burton-helmed update of the sci-fi classic, suffered from audience overlap with similarly PG-13 rated “Rush Hour 2.” Its big soph-sesh drop and failure to repeat as No. 1 continues a revolving door trend atop this summer’s weekend B.O. rankings.

Fox execs were philosophical in discussing the big “Apes” drop, noting that no pic since “Pearl Harbor” has managed a repeat No. 1 perf despite several big openings this summer.

“We’re getting the same grosses we’ve been getting for years — we’re just getting them in the first 20 minutes,” quipped Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder. “It’s got to have something to do with how big we’re releasing pictures these days.”

Both “Rush Hour 2” and “Apes” followed the recent super-saturation trend that’s seen distribs release pics in more than 3,000 theaters with unprecedented frequency. In the case of “Apes,” booking on two or more screens in many venues has seen Fox actually distribbing almost 6,000 prints.

On the other hand, “Princess Diaries” managed to overachieve this weekend without going the super-saturation route — though at 2,537 engagements release well qualifies as saturation level.

Family friendly

Distrib prexy Chuck Viane said pre-release promo contributions by helmer Garry Marshall and topliner Andrews helped broaden family-pic demos. Distrib was particularly pleased to see 25% of pic’s patrons were teens, as pic drew 60% family attendance and 65% femmes.

Wider-than-expected demos could bode well for playability, Viane said.

“That’s the dream — that this will be one of those movies that don’t get one of those big (second-week) hits,” he said.

In a limited bow this weekend, Miramax opened its “Apocalypse Now Redux,” an extended cut of the Vietnam War epic, on single screens in L.A. and Gotham plus a one-show-a-day second venue in Manhattan. The combo produced a $96,000 estimated gross, with a $40,000 per-theater average at the fully booked venues.

Francis Ford Coppola classic expands to exclusives in 10 additional cities on Friday and another 10-15 markets the following frame.

United Artists’ black comedy “Ghost World” added 15 theaters for a total 23 this weekend in scaring up $352,000, or an impressive $15,290 per-location.

Gaining yardage

Fine Line’s transsexual musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” added 35 engagements for a total 46 and grossed $295,000, or $6,413 per venue.

Artisan’s mob laffer “Made” rubbed out $615,000 in 117 locations — a dozen more than last weekend — for a $5,256 average.

Fireworks/Goldwyn laffer “Greenfingers” added 23 theaters for a total 32 in grabbing $129,900, or $4,028 per venue, a week before adding three additional markets.

And First Look’s “Bread and Tulips” laffer cooked up $33,000 in a single Gotham venue a week before adding three markets.

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