$90 mil for dapper ‘MIB 2’ zappers

Sequel outguns original to power B.O.

This article was corrected on July 7, 2002.

They got out the big guns this time.

Sony “Men in Black II,” which unspooled Wednesday on a super-wide 6,000 screens, blew away the box office competish with an estimated $90 million bow over the five-day Independence Day frame.

That bested even the original sci-fi actioner’s $84.1 million perf over the same sesh in 1997 and has distrib closing in on $1 billion in year-to-date grosses with record haste. Sony expects to cross that boffo benchmark this week — two months earlier than it did in setting the current quickest-to-$1 billion standard in 1997.

The “MIB2” perf also spurred a promise from Columbia Pictures boss Amy Pascal of a second franchise sequel. “You can expect one,” Pascal said. “We have a couple of ideas and ways to go that will make it fresh and different.”

Elsewhere over the holiday-lengthened frame, 20th Century Fox debuted hoops fantasy “Like Mike” to an impressive $20.1 million in third place. That was one rung below the $26.3 million showing for Sony’s Adam Sandler starrer “Mr. Deeds” in its five-day soph sesh.

‘Puff’ poofs

Warner Bros. bowed young-femmes toon “The Powerpuff Girls” to a lackluster $6.1 million in eighth place. Warners chalked up disappointing opening to overly narrow audience support for the Cartoon Network spinoff, largely eschewed by young boys.

But Paramount again took it on the chin with a TV-toon adaptation of a show watched by both boys and girls — “Hey, Arnold! The Movie.” “Arnold” tumbled from the top 10 this weekend, earning only $3.1 million over the long frame including a 66% three-day drop from the previous sesh.

Industrywide, the weekend was up 18% from the year-ago holiday frame with $156 million in Friday-Sunday grosses, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. (No five-day comparison was available from EDI for last year when July 4 fell on a Wednesday.) Year-to-date, 2002 is 19% ahead of the same portion of last year at $4.71 billion in total grosses.

Record broken

Barry Sonnenfeld-directed “MIB2” rung up an estimated $54.1 million of its five-day total during the Friday- Sunday period. That’s more than any pic’s ever grossed Friday through Sunday on an Independence Day weekend.

20th Century Fox’s 1996 sci-fi thriller “Independence Day” still reigns as the holiday frame’s five-day champ with a $96.1 million bow, though that total includes some number of 10 p.m. sneaks from the night before the official opening.

There were no sneaks or even midnight shows for “MIB2.” But sequel enjoyed at least a 15% boost in playdates over the run mounted by the original “MIB.”

And with an 88-minute running time, it was easy for exhibs to shoehorn lots of “MIB2” showtimes into their normal theater skeds. At the recent Cinema Expo trade show, a Sony exec boasted to the gathered theater owners of pic’s “audience-friendly” running time.

Smith’s golden trio

Meanwhile, Will Smith — who again toplines pic with co-star Tommy Lee Jones — has quietly begun staking a case as a cinema operator’s best friend. The rap artist and onetime TV thesp now holds the distinction of appearing in holiday sesh’s top three movies of all time including the “MIB” pics and “ID4.”

“He now owns the July 4 triple crown,” Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake quipped.

“MIB2” auds were evenly split above and below age 25 and 55% male, Blake said.

Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said “Like Mike” was supported particularly well by African-American patrons.

“Our strength was in the urban and suburban major cities,” Snyder said.

Producer Barry Josephson said marketing tie-ins with the National Basketball Assn. helped create “pre-awareness” for pic, a yarn about a diminutive youth’s attempt to emulate hoops great Michael Jordan.

It’s believed marketing costs reached at least $25 million — high for a pic whose negative cost was under $30 million.

‘Lips’ lays it on

In a limited release this weekend, Magnolia unspooled drama “Read My Lips” on Friday with an exclusive Gotham engagement and grossed an estimated $28,000. “Lips” smooches L.A. on July 19 and top 15 markets July 26.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Fireworks/Goldwyn bowed female buddy pic “Me Without You” in a single Gotham location Friday and fetched an estimated $13,500. “Me” moves into L.A. on July 12.

Lions Gate broadened drama “Lovely and Amazing” by three theaters for a total 11, grossing an estimated $165,000 over the long sesh. That repped a $15,000 per-venue average and boosted cume to $300,000, with distrib set to widen Catherine Keener starrer to 150 engagements July 19.

United Artists expanded Christina Ricci starrer “Pumpkin” eight playdates for a total 19 and grossed an estimated $67,000, or $3,722 per site with a $109,000 cume.

IFC Films boosted “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” by three locations for a total 499 and unwrapped an estimated $3.7 million, or $7,335 per engagement with a $23.6 million cume.

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