‘Dolittle’ does plenty

Murphy talks up $29 mil; 'Mulan' in moolah as 'Files' falls

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Dr. Dolittle” spoke to more than just animals over the weekend.

Both kids and their parents answered the call — to the tune of $29 million — as the Eddie Murphy starrer led the domestic box office to its second consecutive $100 million-plus frame. Released in 2,777 cages, the Betty Thomas-helmed comedy unleashed a hefty $10,449 average.

“Dolittle’s” debut bested the June 1996 opening of Universal’s “The Nutty Professor,” another Murphy remake that mixed special effects and toilet humor to create a winning box office formula. “Professor” opened to $25.4 million (though on just 2,115 screens) and finished its domestic run at nearly $129 million. The film grossed about the same amount overseas.

Before the weekend, some observers had questioned the picture’s ability to attract young girls, given its broad and sometimes crude humor. But exit polls indicate an almost even gender split, with boys making up 52% of those kids in attendance. African-Americans showed up in force, as did families in general.

“It wasn’t just the typical moms taking their 5-year-olds,” noted producer John Davis.

“Dolittle’s” budget is believed to be somewhere between $50 million and $60 million.

‘Mulan’ remains strong

Families also drove the weekend’s second place pic, Buena Vista’s “Mulan,” which demonstrated formidable staying power in its sophomore frame. The pic dropped just 24% to a studio-estimated $17.3 million, giving it the best non-holiday second-weekend hold ever for a Disney animated feature. It’s also the best non-holiday sophomore frame for any picture released so far this summer.

On the other hand, second-weekend interest in Fox’s “The X-Files” vanished like an alien abductee. The pic plummeted 55% to $13.6 million, bringing its 10-day cume to $55.2 million. It now seems highly unlikely the feature version of the hit sci-fi series will reach the $100 million mark. The pic will more likely top out between $80 million and $90 million domestically.

Universal’s George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez starrer “Out of Sight” came into view with $12.9 million, according to the studio’s projections. The Steven Soderberg-helmed pic, which is based on an Elmore Leonard novel, averaged a healthy $6,125 per site.

The debut was in line with that of “Get Shorty,” the most successful adaptation of a Leonard crime novel to date, which bowed to $12.7 million in October 1995. But given “Out of Sight’s” June release and the fierce summer competition it faces in coming weeks, the pic will have a hard time measuring up to “Shorty’s” $72.1 million domestic cume.

Weekend tops ’97

Total receipts for the weekend appeared likely to finish at about $112 million, up a hefty 14% from this time last year when “Face/Off,” “Hercules,” “Batman and Robin” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” all enjoyed $15 million-plus weekends. Helping to expand the marketplace are an unseasonable number of pictures aimed at mature audiences, as well as successful youth-oriented fare such as “Dolittle” and “Mulan.”

New Line’s reissue of “Gone With the Wind” walked off with an estimated $1.2 million in 214 mansions, bringing the film’s lifetime cume to $193.1 million (not adjusted for inflation). The per screen average of $5,607 was particularly solid given that most theaters offered only two or three showtimes, as opposed to the usual five. The nearly four-hour film is being presented with an intermission.

In the specialized arena, Gotham auds stampeded to Lions Gate Films’ “Buffalo 66,” which bowed to $41,000 in two New York arthouses. That gave actor Vincent Gallo’s feature directing debut an impressive $20,500 per screen.

Less fiery was the launch of Miramax’s “Smoke Signals” which picked up $42,000 around 5 camp fires in New York, L.A. and Orange County, Calif. The Native American drama will expand into a number of smaller Western cities in coming weeks.

‘Armageddon’ nears

With the exception of “The X-Files,” Top-10 holdovers generally fared well with dropoffs ranging from 24% to 42%. But all bets are off for the upcoming Independence Day weekend when Buena Vista’s “Armageddon” is expected to rip through the theatrical marketplace like a fiery asteroid. Most veteran box office observers believe the Bruce Willis starrer is the only Summer 1998 release with a significant chance of grossing $200 million or more. The pic opens Wednesday.

The holiday frame’s B.O. landscape will be further complicated by the fact that Independence Day falls on Saturday this year, with most workers taking Friday off. The Fourth of July is not typically a strong moviegoing day in the U.S., where residents tend to be preoccupied with back yard barbecues and fireworks displays.