Limpin’ lizard takes $55 mil

'Godzilla' bow no monster; 'Bulworth' so-so

If size matters as much as Sony’s omnipresent marketing campaign would have us believe, “Godzilla” came up a little short in its Memorial Day weekend debut.

While the Roland Emmerich-helmed sci-fi pic grossed a massive $55.5 million over the four-day holiday frame — and racked up a powerful $74 million in the seven days since its Tuesday evening release — the opening did not live up to the outsized expectations generated by the studio’s hype machine.

In fact, “Godzilla’s” entrance came nowhere near the $90.2 million four-day record of last year’s Universal Pictures release “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” It also fell shy of Paramount’s 1996 Memorial Day opener, “Mission: Impossible,” which collected $56.8 million during the four-day weekend and $74.9 million from its Tuesday evening advanced screenings through the following Monday.

Before “Godzilla” opened, many industryites had predicted it would perform at least on par with its big lizard predecessor, “Lost World,” which gobbled up $229 million domestically. It now appears that “Godzilla” — which reportedly set Sony back an estimated $200 million in production and domestic marketing costs — faces an uphill battle to reach even $200 million at the North American box office.

Expensive reptile

“Mission,” which opened in 3,012 locations — nearly 300 fewer than “Godzilla’s” 3,310 — topped out at $181 million domestically. Both “Mission” and “Lost World” cost considerably less to make than “Godzilla.”

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox’s “Bulworth” collected a so-so $10.6 million in 2,048 precincts, or $5,150 per district. The political satire, which appealed mainly to older white men, failed to win the key support of young African-Americans, despite its successful rap soundtrack album. According to studio exit polls, about 85% of the audience was Caucasian, men outnumbered women 55%-45%, and 65% of those in attendance were over 25. The film performed much better in big cities than in small towns, according to Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Domestic Film Group.

On the bright side, the film’s older audience base could mean better staying power in coming weeks. Also, Sherak said he had heard anecdotal evidence indicating that older teens were beginning to take an interest in the film.

“It’s always easier for a film to expand its audience downward in age than it is to open to a young audience and then try to attract older people,” said Sherak.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Universal’s Johnny Depp starrer “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” crashed with $4.2 million in 1,126 road trips.

Among holdovers, Paramount’s No. 2-ranked “Deep Impact” dropped a respectable 32% to a still-hot $19 million in its third weekend. (Percentage drops are calculated by comparing the Friday-Sunday portion of the holiday frame to the previous three-day weekend.) The disaster pic has cumed a powerful $98.5 million in 18 days.

Healthy ‘Horse’

Buena Vista’s “The Horse Whisperer” was down just 18% to $13.7 million in its sophomore outing. The Robert Redford-helmed equestrian drama has cumed $32.3 million after 11 days.

Warner Bros.’ “Quest for Camelot” also held up well after a slow start, dipping 23% to $5.7 million, according to studio estimates. Now in its second week, the animated feature has cumed $13.2 million.

Not surprisingly, overall ticket sales for the Memorial Day weekend were lower than a year ago, when “Lost World” led the pack to a $148 million take. The past weekend appears on track to finish down about 12%, at a still blistering $130 million.

“Godzilla” accounted for nearly 43% of the weekend total, as compared to “Lost World’s” 61% share of the Memorial Day market.

“Godzilla’s” opening was the third-highest ever for a four-day holiday weekend. Even if it tops out at $180 million in the U.S., it would become one of less than three dozen films ever to reach that rarefied box office altitude.

Still, it seems that by preordaining the picture — to the press, exhibitors and the public — as a megahit, Sony may have created a monster whose bark would inevitably be seen as bigger than its bite.