Comet streaks to B.O. peak

'Impact' nabs a smashing $41.9 mil

DreamWorks and Paramount’s “Deep Impact” made a colossal impression on North American moviegoers over Mother’s Day weekend, grossing a studio-estimated $41.9 million and possibly setting a new May three-day opening record.

The tidal wave of interest in the Mimi Leder-helmed pic, about a comet that threatens to destroy Earth, caught many box office observers off guard. Even execs at domestic distributor Paramount had expected an opening of somewhere between $25 million and $30 million.

Facing a wide-open field, “Impact” utterly dominated the marketplace, accounting for well over half of the roughly $75 million projected total weekend business. It grossed nearly nine times as much as its nearest competitor, Warner Bros.’ five-week-old “City of Angels, which finished a distant second with $4.7 million.

The weekend’s only other significant newcomer, New Line’s broad sex comedy “Woo,” bowed to a disappointing $2.5 mil-lion in 617 dates, according to studio projections.

With few exceptions, top 10 holdovers were swamped by “Deep Impact’s” arrival. Last weekend’s high scorer, Buena Vista’s “He Got Game,” saw a 50% drop in its second period of play, while Sony’s “The Big Hit” and Universal’s “Black Dog” fell 59% and 56%, respectively.

If Paramount’s estimate holds true, “Impact’s” opening would eclipse the three-day May record of $41.1 million set by Warner Bros.’ “Twister” in 1996. However, Paramount based its prediction on a projected Sunday take of $11.9 million. That’s a big number — especially with school still in session and the NBA playoffs raging.

Still, as Paramount distribution prexy Wayne Lewellen noted, it’s less than the $12.6 million “Twister” whipped up on Mother’s Day 1996. The holiday, the first official weekend of the summer box office season, has proven to be a big moviegoing day, especially for films that appeal to older women.

Even if “Impact” does top “Twister’s” opening record, however, it is unlikely to come anywhere near the tornado pic’s domestic cume of nearly $242 million. “Deep Impact” bowed in 3,156 theaters, as opposed to “Twister’s” 2,414, meaning its run is likely to be more front-loaded. Also, “Impact’s” box office revenue increased just 20% on Saturday over Friday, compared to “Twister’s” Saturday bump of about 35%, an indication its audience base may be thinner.

And “Impact” goes up against Sony’s highly anticipated “Godzilla” beginning on the evening of May 19, just eight days from now. The looming presence of the giant lizard points up the wisdom of Paramount’s decision to go for an ultrawide release of about 4,600 prints.

On the bright side, exit poll data for “Impact” indicated a fairly even gender mix, with males slightly outnumbering females. Older moviegoers (those 25 and over) also outnumbered younger ones by a narrow margin.

“Deep Impact” was co-produced by Paramount and DreamWorks (which will handle overseas distribution). The pic is on course to become DreamWorks’ first certifiable hit. Previously, the studio’s biggest opening was “The Peacemaker,” which launched to $12.3 million last September, on its way to a disappointing $41.3 million domestic cume. The company’s biggest domestic grosser so far has been “Mouse Hunt,” which nibbled its way to $61 million.

In exclusive runs, Miramax’s period piece “Artemisia” bowed to $32,000 in four locations.

Among expanders, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Spanish Prisoner” tied up nearly $1.1 million after widening its run from 178 to 290 screens. The cume is now slightly under $4 million.

Trimark’s “Chinese Box” captured $238,000 after expanding from 31 to 68 locations; cume to date is $681,000.