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Universal’s “The Mummy Returns” returned to the top of the box office sand pile over the weekend, and Sony’s “A Knight’s Tale” jousted its way to a valiant No. 2 showing.

U’s “Mummy” sequel stalked $32.2 million in estimated grosses for a second-frame perf that has the Egyptian-themed thriller caravaning to a likely $200 million-plus domestic run. “Knight’s Tale” rode to an estimated three-day tally of $17 million, considered exceptional against such blockbuster competish.

After the top two spots, things softened up significantly over the Mother’s Day weekend, a historically weak moviegoing frame. No other pic managed even a modest $2,000 per-screen average, and less than $1,000 a venue was good enough for a couple of top10 finishes.

In third place, Miramax/U’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” scribbled another $4.5 million to bulk up cume to $51 million. No. 6 entry “Spy Kids” crossed the magical $100 million threshold with some $2.5 million in weekend grosses.

Industrywide, the weekend’s total B.O. of $78 million repped a 9% drop from the same weekend in 2000, which also included a Mom’s Day. Last year’s best-pic Oscar winner “Gladiator” finished No. 1 in the year-ago frame, grossing $24.6 million in its soph sesh. John Travolta’s ill-fated “Battlefield Earth” opened at No. 2 a year ago with $11.5 million.

In a year-to-date comparison, 2001 is still 9% ahead of last year, with a total $2.49 billion in grosses.

“Mummy Returns” saw a considerable fall-off, at 53%, from its boffo bow of $68.1 million. But that’s the norm at such rarefied heights.

U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco noted blockbuster sequels “Mission: Impossible 2” and “Lost World: Jurassic Park also saw sophomore sesh drops of greater than 50%. Both those pics went on to do well over $200 million in B.O.

“It’s a remarkable result for the second weekend,” Rocco said.

Stiff competition

Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake said the “Knight’s Tale” perf reps an important accomplishment, as distribs prepare for a summer B.O. season thick with big-budgeted competish.

“I think it was really important for a movie like this to break through,” Blake said.

Pic, carrying a negative cost of about $41 million, was helmed by Brian Helgeland (“Payback”) and stars Heath Ledger (“The Patriot”).

Meanwhile, a couple of platformed releases — Guy Pearce amnesia thriller “Memento” and John Le Carre spy-novel adaptation “Tailor of Panama” — finally elbowed their way into the top 10. “Memento” grossed an estimated $1.2 million and “Tailor” $800,000 in their sixth and seventh weeks, respectively.

Dot-com docu “Startup.com” was a standout among new specialty pics, taking in $17,187 in a single Gotham location.

Miramax’s “Chocolat,” a successful specialty-to-crossover release earlier this year, was re-expanded to 1,487 theaters especially for the Mother’s Day weekend. But the strategy met with modest results, as the Juliette Binoche/Johnny Depp starrer grossed only $665,000, or $447 per location, to push cume to $69.9 million.

Miramax’s Latin-jazz docu “Calle 54,” which saw a brief Academy-consideration run last year, grossed $30,000 in a dozen big-city locations for a $2,500 average and $91,000 cume. Distrib’s “About Adam” romantic laffer saw $35,000 in five Gotham and L.A. engagements for a per-screen average $7,000 and $44,000 cume a weekend before hitting top 10 markets.

IFC’s “The King Is Alive,” a Shakespeare-tinged drama, took in $20,919 from six Gotham and L.A. engagements for a $3,486 average. And Artisan’s “The Center of the World” drama grossed $127,000 in 45 theaters for an average $2,822 and a $490,603 cume.

Elsewhere, Sony’s animated “The Trumpet of the Swan,” an E.B. White children’s book adaptation getting a brief theatrical run prior to homevid release, grossed an estimated $100,000 from 125 engagements for an average of $800.