B.O. gets ‘Shaft’

Actioner cool at $21 mil, but auds cop out

To celebrate a $21.1 million weekend, Paramount execs can paraphrase Isaac Hayes: What’s the action pic that’s a sex machine to all the summer flicks? “Shaft.”

Samuel L. Jackson starrer smacked down all rivals, especially fellow openers “Titan A.E.” and “Boys and Girls.” Par can certainly dig the results — “Shaft” is shaping up as the studio’s fourth solid performer of 2000.

“The reviews are good, so we feel like it can just keep playing from here,” said Robert L. Friedman, vice chairman of Par’s film group.

On a grimmer note, the blaxploitation pic’s splash created the lone ripple in an evaporating pond. B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI estimated the weekend take at $102 million, off a startling 22% from the year-ago period.

Certainly last year’s slate was much stronger, with “Austin Powers 2,” “Tarzan” and “The General’s Daughter” making history by each grossing more than $20 million. On that list, “Shaft” would have placed fourth. But the disparity doesn’t console studios or exhibs, considering this summer is now dead even with 1999 after entering the frame 9% ahead.

“We need some new momentum,” said Tom Borys, prexy of ACNielsen EDI. “It’s really getting to be do-or-die time.”

‘Titan,’ ‘Boys’ grounded

This weekend was do-or-die for Fox’s “Titan A.E.” and Miramax’s “Boys and Girls,” and both are leaning toward the latter.

“Titan,” the studio’s first animated production since “Anastasia” in 1997, managed just $9.5 million from 2,733 playdates, or just $3,476 per engagement. “Anastasia’s” bow of $14.1 million was considered fairly modest, as was its final tally of $58.4 million. “Titan” will certainly not make inevitable Disney toon comparisons any more favorable. One handicap for the PG-rated sci-fier was fragmentation of teen auds.

“Shaft,” second-place “Gone in 60 Seconds,” still-potent “Mission: Impossible 2” and debuting “Boys and Girls” all siphoned off sub-25s that “Titan” was seeking. In its aim to lure teens to toons with a $75 million blend of computer and traditional animation, “Titan” reps a major risk for Fox — one they hoped would be more richly rewarded.

“Were we hoping for more? Absolutely,” conceded Tom Sherak, chairman of Fox’s domestic film group. “We’ll have to look at the midweek numbers, now that kids are out of school. But if you consider the business this weekend, none of these pictures seem to be taking hold. People are just doing other things instead of going to the movies.”

The “Titan” estimate excludes 10 p.m. sneaks of Jim Carrey-Farrelly Bros. comedy “Me, Myself & Irene,” which opens wide on Friday. About 82% of the 1,400 theaters sneaking the pic were between 50-100% full, Fox estimated, and feedback from theater managers was bullish.

‘Fantasia’ misses top 10

As to “Titan’s” fate, Sherak dismissed the theory that Disney’s “Fantasia 2000” ate into “Titan” receipts. Indeed, Disney’s new take on an old chestnut failed to reach the top 10, collecting $2.8 million. It is three days into a four-week 35mm booking, having pulled in nearly $75 million in a worldwide Imax experiment from January to April.

Mouse House used a similar tactic against “Anastasia” in 1997, grabbing a share of family auds with a reissue of “A Little Mermaid.”

For effective counter-programming, don’t look to “Boys and Girls,” which finished an underwhelming No. 6. Romantic comedy’s star Freddie Prinze Jr. finds himself on a downslope after the surprising 1999 smash “She’s All That.” With an estimated $7 million, “Boys” couldn’t even match tepid bow of “Down to You,” a January release that debuted with $7.6 million — nearly 40% of its $20 cume.

The top 10 chart contained a few minor conversation pieces:

  • Disney’s “Gone in 60 Seconds” may have declined 42%, more than any wide release, but it has reached $51.9 million after 10 days

  • Fox’s “Big Momma’s House” notched a convincing third-place frame, bringing cume to $70.7 million and making $100 million well within sight for the Martin Lawrence comedy

  • “Gladiator” again had the best hold, just a 30% decline in Week 7

  • “Mission 2” dropped 37% to beat the original “Mission’s” 41% fall in its fourth frame.

Yet no pic could match “Shaft.” Some B.O. pundits doubted its gross potential based on Jackson playing a lead role without a white co-star. But the solid bow dispelled such speculation.

“It definitely crossed over, based on the numbers, so we’re very happy about that,” Par’s Friedman said.

Wayne Lewellen, the studio’s distrib prexy, said auds were about 55% male. He added that the pic’s 15% jump from Friday to Saturday indicated a fairly young skew.

Launch should bolster Jackson’s viability as a mainstream leading man. Though he appeared in more pics in the 1990s than any other thesp, collecting award noms and critical plaudits, he had never before truly opened a wide release.

“Shaft,” which cost in the mid-$40 million range, should likewise return helmer John Singleton to the limelight he enjoyed after his debut, “Boyz N the Hood,” earned him an Oscar nom at the tender age of 23. None of his efforts in the past nine years had anywhere close to the commercial heft of “Shaft,” and despite widely reported discord on the set, a sequel looks like a certainty.

With the mid-summer focus squarely on mega-budget major studio fare, precious few arthouse pics tested the waters. Miramax released “Butterfly,” a Spanish-lingo festival fave that floated away with $30,000 from three screens.

Paramount Classics’ “Sunshine” hung in with $84,000 from eight locations, bringing overall take to $210,610. Multi-generational saga starring Ralph Fiennes and William Hurt expands to the top 40 markets on Friday.

Par’s art arm also passed the $4 million mark with “The Virgin Suicides.” Estimate was $180,000, or $1,323 in each of 136 sites.

Lions Gate scored with “Jesus’ Son,” reaping $37,000 from just one Gotham run. A gradual summer expansion is planned for the literary adaptation starring Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Denis Leary and Jack Black.

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