Uncle Sam may be due for a cut of the April box office.
Extending a U.S. military occupation of the No. 1 B.O. spot, Universal’s World War II submarine actioner “U-571” swamped rivals with a studio-estimated $20.3 million bow. Pic succeeds Paramount’s “Rules of Engagement,” another stars-and-stripes affair that logged two weekends atop the chart.
Bowing in a holiday frame proved a mixed blessing for “U-571.” It saw its biggest receipts on Friday, a day off for many students and working pros. Easter Sunday, however, has never been fertile B.O. ground, and U accordingly projected a modest $5.1 million for the day.
Pointing to the vast margin between “U-571” and New Line’s “Love and Basketball,” which finished No. 2 with $8.4 million, U execs said they were satisfied.
Distrib chief Nikki Rocco discouraged any comparisons between “U-571” and eagerly anticipated summer actioners such as “Gladiator,” which U co-financed with DreamWorks.
“My summer came in March with ‘Erin Brockovich,’“ Rocco said. “I like to get out of that summer way of thinking. This weekend shows you can open a movie any time. Our goal is to feed film 12 months a year.”
Pic bears one telltale sign of spring: lack of proven star power.
Topliner Matthew McConaughey is no B.O. slouch, but aside from Bill Paxton the cast’s only other big name is formerly big-haired rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
McConaughey’s biggest previous launch was “Contact,” which opened with $20.5 million in July 1997. Yet in that Jodie Foster starrer, he wasn’t truly captain of the ship, as he is in “U.”
Pic is first medium-budget effort by helmer Jonathan Mostow, whose previous effort was the taut Kurt Russell thriller “Breakdown,” which took in $50.2 million in 1997.
While “Love and Basketball” didn’t offer a major challenge to “U-571,” it also had about half the playdates. On a per-engagement basis, it was quite competitive.
New Line cheered strong exit poll results that showed 94% of auds rated pic “very good” or “excellent.”
Lensed by rookie Gina Prince Blythewood, tale of off- and on-court romance has curried critics’ support since Sundance.
Thanks to “Love” life, 1,200 favorable sneaks of upcoming “Frequency,” and teen sleeper “Final Destination” spending a sixth weekend in the top 10, it was a happy holiday for New Line.
Beyond the two top bows, the order of the remaining films didn’t change from last week. Lions Gate’s “American Psycho” couldn’t stop the bleeding, exiting the top 10 with a 45% drop and a $2.7 million frame.
Bye to ‘High’
Disney’s “High Fidelity” also left the scene, despite a slim 14% dip and respectable $2.3 million take in its fourth weekend.
And debuting much like the proverbial tree falling in the forest was Warner Bros.’ “Gossip.” Teen gloomfest managed a paltry $2.3 million from 1,525 playdates and failed to make the top 10.
Few ongoing pics suffered major dropoffs, as overall grosses hit an estimated $91 million, according to ACNielsen EDI. That’s a whopping 44% spike from the year-ago frame of $63.4 million, but a more modest 10% over Easter weekend in 1999, which came three weeks earlier than in 2000.
Reflecting that industry-wide resilience, Mouse House’s “Keeping the Faith” fell just 10% to register $7.3 million and “Rules of Engagement” declined a mere 27% to add $8 million to its $43 million tally.
Limited engagements, though limited in number, packed some punch.
Paramount Classics’ “The Virgin Suicides” pulled in an estimated $238,000 from 18 runs in Gotham, L.A. and San Fran. Average per engagement was a stout $13,222.
Already the fledgling specialty division’s biggest hope for a hit, Sofia Coppola directing debut will expand to 60-70 playdates on May 5 before nationwide launch May 12.
Miramax’s “East is East” widened to 18 screens and collected $218,000, or $12,100 per engagement. Cume stands at $300,000.
Trimark didn’t quite keep pace with indie rivals with “The Last September,” which totaled $22,711 from three Gotham sites.
With a week left in its large-format run, “Fantasia 2000” has an outside shot at $50 million. Toon fetched $2 million, up 36% from the previous frame, to bring cume to $45.9 million.
Fellow juggernaut “Boys Don’t Cry” brought in $176,000 in its 29th outing, boosting cume to $11.3 million.
“The Other Conquest,” from Spanish-lingo distrib Hombre De Oro, tallied $281,659. It’s racked up $384,039 since Wednesday bow.