July heat lacks legs

'X' helps Fox top mixed month

At the box office, July felt a lot like March: in like a lion and out like a lamb.

On the strength of “X-Men,” which has rolled up $122.9 million to date, Fox claimed the month’s market-share race. Studio posted its best month in at least a year, collecting $201.2 million, or 19.6% of the $1.024 billion overall pot.

Warner Bros. thrived on top July title “The Perfect Storm,” which is steaming toward an eventual $190 million. Pic’s $158.1 million month made WB a close second to Fox with 19.1% of the market.

The industry tally set a record for July, rising 7% over last year’s level, but B.O. watchers were hardly celebrating, their enthusiasm having cooled last weekend when Universal’s “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” had a strong bow, but receipts fell 16% from the year-ago frame.

‘X’ marks spotty B.O.

While it certainly rescued Fox from the commercial doldrums, “X-Men” also typified the slackening of the B.O. over the last 10 days of July. After opening with a stunning $54.5 million, “X” retreated by more than 50% in two successive weekends.

Year-to-date, total B.O. is about 4% ahead of the 1999 pace. Three months ago, it was 10% ahead.

The critical May-August span typically generates at least 40% of all distribs’ yearly grosses. In the past five years, for example, Fox has recorded 57% of its annual gross in the summer.

Summer has now slipped 1% behind 1999’s pace, and nothing on the August slate seems a likely tonic.

Last year’s run

Powerful B.O. binges in May, June and August last summer helped the overall gate set a record for the Memorial Day-Labor Day period: $3.2 billion.

In order for 2000 to approach last year’s muscle, some late-summer pic will have to pull off quite a surprise. The prototype for a such a feat is Miramax’s bargain-priced “Scary Movie,” which rose from spring obscurity to become the second-highest grosser in July, with $132.1 million.

Spoof not only drove the mini-major to a fourth-place showing, but offered fellow distribs some much-needed optimism that hits still do come from left field.

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