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‘Hollow’ bumps Klumps

'Cowboys' and 'Coyote' debuts score, but B.O. is off 19%

Sony’s “Hollow Man” couldn’t make Eddie Murphy, Clint Eastwood and Jerry Bruckheimer disappear over the weekend, but the invisible-man pic topped the weekend box office with a studio-estimated $26.8 million in its debut.

If the figure holds true, it’ll be the biggest bow of any August pic and tops in helmer Paul Verhoeven’s career. Effects-heavy thriller cost about $95 million to produce, so profitability will come down the road. Still, Sony execs called it a strong start, especially on a weekend when overall B.O. fell 19% from the extraordinary first August frame in 1999.

“We always felt that early August has been a great launching pad, and this picture is off to a great start,” Sony distribution chief Jeff Blake said.

Universal sophomore “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” and the debuting “Space Cowboys” and “Coyote Ugly” were bunched between $17 million and $18 million. Today’s actual results will sort out the order of finish.

Warner Bros.’ “Space” has surprisingly become Eastwood’s top career opening as a director or actor as the breezy geezer comedy out-orbited most expectations by a couple of million.

“He has generated about $1.2 billion in grosses,” Warners distrib chief Dan Fellman marveled. “To have his kind of career and then have this happen is a testament to his ability to find great material.”

“Coyote,” the second Bruckheimer-produced Disney release in two months, made a respectable showing. But its 19% dip from Friday to Saturday isn’t an auspicious sign for a pic whose opening-weekend crowd was half-over and half-under 25.

“Nutty’s” decline of 58%, steepest of any top 10 pic, was worse than most B.O. observers anticipated. But U’s Nikki Rocco remained sanguine.

“I can’t say it wasn’t expected,” she said. “Do I wish it fell 20%? Of course I do. But I do think it will level off and it will do $100 million-plus.”

The “Nutty” numbers were indicative of a fatigued business limping toward Labor Day. Receipts of $125 million, as estimated by ACNielsen EDI, are in line with comparable frames in 1997 and ’98, but they fell sharply from last year. Summer is now 3% behind last year’s record pace and year-to-date grosses are up 3%.

Three months ago, the year-to-date margin was 10%.

The late-summer marketplace in 1999 was unusually diverse and potent. Early August saw a confluence of major titles such as “The Sixth Sense,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Deep Blue Sea,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Runaway Bride” and “Inspector Gadget.”

Aside from two of next week’s openers, MGM’s “Autumn in New York” and Warners’ “The Replacements,” few pics appear capable of injecting new life into the B.O.

B.O. challenges ahead

Moreover, the usual August doldrums should extend into September this year due to the Sydney Olympics.

November and December are shaping up well, but they’ll need to be quite powerful if the 2000 box office has a chance at overtaking the 1999 totals. Most B.O. watchers see year-to-year numbers flat by the end of August. A down summer would be tough to overcome as the May-August span accounts for at least 40% of annual receipts.

While not disclosing full exit-poll results on “Hollow Man,” Blake said it played evenly across the demographic quadrants. Auds were 54% under 25, 46% over. Stars Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue kept gender split even — 51% male and 49% female.

“Having that mix really helped us,” he said. “It really played like a special effects film, not like horror.”

As their major-studio cousins sweated the August B.O. climate, specialized distribs found reason to smile.

Fine Line’s “Saving Grace,” an unabashed paean to pot starring Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson, toked up $288,891 in 30 sites. Stellar debut screen average of $9,630 came from 12 U.S. markets. On Aug. 18, comedy will pass the dutchie to 150 runs in 30 markets.

‘Grace’ smokin’

“Our exit poll numbers were the best in Fine Line history, better than ‘Shine,’ ” said Steven Friedlander, distrib chief at the art outfit. And given the pic’s subject matter, he added, “Exhibitors must be thrilled with concession sales.”

Sony Classics’ “The Tao of Steve” also opened well, taking in $90,407, or an average of $10,045 in each of nine locations.

“Croupier” has cleared $4 million for the Shooting Gallery. Drama recorded about $240,000 in 139 venues.

Artisan’s “Chuck & Buck” added $105,000, averaging $2,386 on 44 screens. Cume is $613,000.

As it preps for a wide release of Cannes fave “Nurse Betty” in September, USA Films is nurturing three summer titles. The re-released “Blood Simple” reached $1 million after a $140,928 weekend in 66 theaters. “Alice and Martin” posted $55,419 on eight screens, and “Wonderland” managed $37,418 on nine.

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