Teens the target as B.O. heats up

Stiff Summer competish expected

Summer’s here, and the time is right for battling at the box office.

This weekend kicks off nine straight frames of rivalry, with Paramount’s “Shaft,” Fox’s “Titan A.E.” and Miramax’s “Boys and Girls” opening.

Disney counters “Titan” by kicking off a four-week 35mm run for “Fantasia/2000.” Toon brought in about $50 million in a January-April large-format jaunt.

“Summer gets ratcheted up with every weekend in June,” said Tom Borys, prexy of industry tracker ACNielsen EDI. “By now more than 90% of kids are out of school.”

Kickstarted by a historic Memorial Day span, summer receipts are on the verge of breaking $500 million, about 9% ahead of last year’s record pace. Plenty of big titles remain in the hopper, especially over the five-day Fourth of July period, which houses the most highly anticipated pics of the season: Sony launches “The Patriot” June 28, and Warner Bros. and Universal follow on June 30 with “The Perfect Storm” and “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,” respectively.

Teen dream

As a conventional three-day affair, this weekend should be noteworthy mainly for its emphasis on the teen demo. Except for the tot-targeting Mouse House, all of the newcomers are courting elusive teen auds to some extent. Ditto for top holdovers Disney’s “Gone in 60 Seconds,” Par’s “Mission: Impossible 2” and Fox’s “Big Momma’s House.”

With the numbers of playdates well below the dizzying levels of “Mission 2” and “Dinosaur,” there will likely be a logjam of films grossing between $10 million and $20 million.

“Shaft” is debuting with 2,337 playdates, giving the Samuel L. Jackson starrer plenty of room to grow. Many B.O. observers feel its popularity will be measured over time rather than in a record-breaking bow.

“Boys and Girls” is the weekend’s wild card, with potential lying in a strong core aud for stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and “American Pie’s” Jason Biggs. Romantic comedy will bow with 1,983 playdates.

“Titan” will lead all newcomers with 2,733 playdates, and Fox plans to goose its grosses with 1,500 sneaks of Jim Carrey comedy “Me, Myself & Irene.”

Fanning the Farrelly flame

It’s the same strategy the studio deployed in 1998 with another R-rated Farrelly brothers comedy, “There’s Something About Mary,” planting the seeds for its $176 million domestic spree.

Most of the “Irene” sneaks will be at 10 p.m. Saturday, and those grosses will be recorded as “Titan’s.”

“There’s no question that with school out, there are a lot more kids available, but there’s also the NBA finals,” said Tom Sherak, chairman of Fox’s domestic film group. “At this point, we know a certain number of people will get out to the movies. We just don’t know exactly what they’re going to see.”

With megaplex building having reached its peak, this summer is proving a high-stakes test of the new exhib dynamics. The average size of a release in 2000 is up to 2,116 engagements, a 25% increase from 1995 levels.

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