’60’ hot-wires auds

Car caper heists $25 mil; overall B.O. off 17%

Showbiz has a thing for nostalgia. Witness this weekend’s B.O. flashback to 1996.

Disney’s Jerry Bruckheimer-produced “Gone in 60 Seconds,” starring Nicolas Cage, scored a studio-estimated $25.5 opening. Pic pushed Paramount’s three-week-old “Mission: Impossible 2” out of the top spot.

Likewise in ’96, Bruckheimer’s Cage-starring actioner “The Rock,” also released by Disney, unseated the first “Mission” with a $25.1 million bow.

Despite ample testosterone atop the chart and a strong hold by Fox’s “Big Momma’s House,” weekend receipts fell 17% from the comparable 1999 frame, which featured the twin engines of “Star Wars” and “Austin Powers.” ACNielsen EDI estimated the weekend take at about $100 million, down from $120.8 million in the year-ago period.

Whatever year they’re released in, “Mission” pics and Bruckheimer fare share the same focus on down-the-middle summertime action. For that reason, the Mouse House opted to stay clear of ‘Mission’ and wound up with the frame all to itself, as no other pics opened wide.

“For us, it was all about timing and placement,” said Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane. “You want to give that action audience some time to breathe. But everyone loves pure entertainment and that’s what ‘Gone’ delivers.”

Critics hit the brakes

Most critics disagreed, but no matter. “Gone,” a remake of a low-budget 1974 car-theft pic, is Bruckheimer’s biggest non-holiday launch and No. 3 for his career.

Exit polls showed auds were a predictable 60% male. About 88% rated the pic “very good” or “excellent.” On Saturday night, 62% were couples and 30% were teens.

“That’s a good number because you expect teenagers to see it on Friday and not be there on Saturday,” Viane reasoned.

The main difference between the current Bruckheimer/”Mission” convergence and the ’96 edition is a steeper drop for “Mission 2.” Original dipped 32% in its third frame, collecting $14.7 million. Sequel fell 37%, the highest decline of any top 10 title.

Tom Cruise package recorded $17.1 million, boosting its cume to a hefty $157.9 million and making $200 million a lock. Original’s cume at the same release point was $130 million and it finished at $181 million.

Wide release

Although the sequel has consistently delivered 22% higher grosses, it also has been a corresponding number of extra screens. At 3,669 playdates, pic has enjoyed the widest release of all time.

“It’s been playing just like the first one, only at a higher level,” said Par distrib chief Wayne Lewellen. “Even though the opening numbers were so strong, there are still a lot of people out there who have not seen it.”

“Mission 2” foiled Fox again, though “Big Momma” has put up some tubby numbers in just 10 days. Laffer’s cume is $52 million and final tally is sure to be a career best for star Martin Lawrence.

Tom Sherak, chairman of Fox’s domestic film group, viewed “Big Momma” as the frame’s No. 2 pic, barely ahead of “Mission 2.” A majority of distribs, though, gave the nod to Par.

“Gladiator’s” days at the center of the B.O. arena may be past, but DreamWorks’ Russell Crowe starrer grows more impressive with each powerful week. Roman epic tallied another $7.1 million, declining a mere 15%, to reach $150 million, one of only 15 R-rated pics in history to hit that gross level.

Dream summer

Between that and thriving comedies “Road Trip” and “Small Time Crooks” — both enjoying a fourth weekend in the top 10 — DreamWorks is already having perhaps its finest summer. Plus, “Chicken Run” and “What Lies Beneath” are still in the wings.

Beyond “Gone,” Disney had mixed success in the frame. “Dinosaur” fell just 26% and has pocketed $110.5 million to date.

That’s certainly solid, but with a likely final tally of $150 million, pricey pic falls in the less-than-dazzling $100-170 million domestic range of the past five Mouse House summer toons. By comparison, studio’s end-of-year holiday fare (the “Toy Story” pics, “A Bug’s Life” and “101 Dalmations”) has left a much bigger commercial footprint.

“Shanghai Noon,” a co-venture between Disney and Spyglass Entertainment, has been in retreat since producers’ risky call to move it up from a July slot to Memorial Day. Weekend take was $5.8 million, off 35%, leaving cume at a subdued $41.5 million.

Ever since “Mission 2” cruised past “Shanghai,” the offbeat action-comedy’s chances for sleeper status seemed remote. Execs are now hoping for a final cume of $60 million.

On the limited release loop, Paramount Classics continued to roll out a 2000 sked that reps major improvement over the “Where’s Marlowe?” days. Latest release, “Sunshine,” brought in a hearty $92,583 from seven screens in L.A. and Gotham. Hungarian saga from “Mephisto” helmer Istvan Szabo stars Ralph Fiennes and William Hurt.

“The Virgin Suicides,” also from Par Classics, grossed $223,000, or $1,161 on each of 192 runs. Cume has reached $3.7 million.

Miramax copped the per-screen prize with Kenneth Branagh’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Bard-based pic collected $27,000 from two bicoastal sites.

Sony Classics’ dance music opus “Groove” drew raves from core auds but few others. Tally was $64,230 from nine theaters.

On the big board, the coming weekend ushers in two straight months of intense head-to-head battles. Wide debuts Friday include Par’s “Shaft,” Fox’s “Titan A.E.,” Miramax’s “Boys and Girls” and Disney’s “Fantasia 2000.”

In this steamy summer climate, any pic that fails to click in its debut frame will be gone in 60 hours.

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