‘Men 2’ hangs tough in B.O. race

Aliens hold lead despite solid 'Perdition' ignition

Sony’s sci-fi laffer “Men in Black II” rocketed past weekend B.O. competition for a second straight sesh with an estimated $25 million — the first repeat winner in five weeks.

And DreamWorks discovered “Road to Perdition” is paved in B.O. gold, as Tom-Hanks-as-hit man drama bowed at No. 2 with an estimated $22.1 million despite having half as many theaters as “MIB2.”

Disney’s vidgame adaptation “Reign of Fire” opened in third place at the low end of pre-release expectations with an estimated $16 million, perhaps reined in by the simultaneous debut of “Halloween: Resurrection” from Mouse kin Miramax/Dimension. Eighth installment in the well-known “Halloween” horror franchise scared up $12.3 million to grab fourth place over its frosh frame.

And busy weekend’s fourth wide opener — MGM’s animal adventure “The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course” — grossed an estimated $10 in sixth place.

Sony’s Adam Sandler starrer “Mr. Deeds” finished fifth in its third weekend, as another $11 million lifted romantic laffer to a $94.1 million cume.

‘Bourne’ sees heady sums

Similarly pushing the magic $100 million mark is Universal’s Matt Damon starrer “The Bourne Identity.” “Bourne” grossed $5.8 million to finish 10th in its fifth outing and float cume to $99 mil.

“MIB2,” which has grossed $133.3 million in 12 days, reps first summer title to repeat in consecutive seshes since Paramount’s “The Sum of All Fears” topped rankings over the long Memorial Day frame and again the following weekend.

Industrywide, the latest weekend’s depth of strong titles produced $141 million in total grosses — up almost 17% from the same frame a year ago, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2002 is 19% ahead of the same portion of last year with $4.94 billion in total grosses.

In 2001, MGM laffer “Legally Blonde” opened as the top pic over the second weekend in July with $20.4 million. And in a counter-programming gambit similar to DreamWorks’ ploy with “Perdition,” Paramount’s adult-skewing heist film “The Score” finished second in the year-ago frame with $19 million.

“Perdition” made crime pay for DreamWorks while attracting auds evenly split between males and females, and between patrons older and younger than age 35.

Old folks bode well

“Audiences for adult movies tend to show up in the second and third weeks,” DreamWorks distrib topper Jim Tharp enthused. “So, it bodes well for the longer-term prospects of the movie.”

There was some question prior to pic’s release whether auds would accept Hanks in such a checkered role. But distrib’s confidence that reviews would be positive has been borne out, and its plan to add theaters in subsequent weeks of the run keys on the belief word-of-mouth also will be strong.

Sam Mendes-directed “Perdition” unspools with 1,797 playdates, but should be well north of 2,000 engagements by Friday, with pic’s strong bow sure to make adding theaters easier. Dallas-based exhib Cinemark had passed on the offer of opening pic in a dozen or so of its venues, believing terms too pricey.

Twentieth Century Fox, which has foreign distribution on “Perdition,” will evenly split pic’s cost and B.O. on both domestic and international grosses.

Disney execs declined to discuss exit data or other aspects of the first weekend of “Reign,” a rumored $100 million-production. But rival execs said it’s clear “Halloween” — despite carrying an “R” rating compared to the “PG13” for “Reign” — was a drag on Disney’s dragons-in-modern-London actioner.

‘Hunter’ tracks

“Crocodile Hunter,” which carries an estimated negative cost of under $13 million, performed roughly in line with pre-release expectations.

“We’re going to make a good return on our investment,” MGM distrib boss Erik Lomas observed.

Among limited bows this weekend, Sony Classics laffer “My Wife is an Actress” unspooled with an estimated $48,668 from seven Gotham and L.A. locations, or a laudable $6,953 per venue.

Palm’s drama “Sex and Lucia” opened with an estimated $47,441 from seven Gotham and L.A. theaters, an attractive $6,777 average.

And Focus romancer “Never Again” wooed an estimated $33,472 from five Gotham and L.A. engagements, or a winsome $6,694 per playdate.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Wellspring laffer “Notorious C.H.O.” expanded to 10 theaters in its soph sesh and grossed an estimated $58,531, for a solid per-site average of $5,831 and a $199,897 cume.

And IFC Films laffer “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” continued in 498 locations and grossed $2.2 million, or $4,514 per venue, with a $27 million cume.

Big ones on the way

Looking to next weekend, the crush of big titles continues with three more skedded wide openers. Summer-leader Sony should get richer still on certain a big bow for family laffer “Stuart Little 2,” Par launches Russian-sub drama “K-19: The Widowmaker,” and Warner Bros. bows humor-laced horror pic “Eight-Legged Freaks.”

But though the number and size of openings to date have resulted in a big improvement over any previous summer, comparisons with year-ago frames get tougher in coming weeks. Titles from the next four comparable seshes of summer ’01 included B.O. phenoms “Jurassic Park 3,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Rush Hour 2” and “American Pie 2.”

“The big test starts next week,” EDI exec veep Dan Marks said.

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