‘Mummy’ dearest: U looks for B.O. gold

Tracking numbers suggest record bow

This article was corrected on May 6, 2001.

Universal’s “The Mummy Returns” won’t be a box office stiff — that’s all but guaranteed by through-the-roof tracking numbers — but it remains to be seen just how big a B.O. swathe it will cut.

Execs from several different studios expect the sequel to do better than its predecessor, with at least one rival studio exec putting the opening at $50 million. The original, released in May 1999, grossed $43.4 million in its three-day weekend bow.

“I think it will do at least $50 million,” said David Davis, senior veep and box office analyst at L.A. investment firm Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin. “The way it has been marketed and positioned suggest it will open bigger than the original.”

U distrib exec Nikki Rocco was understandably less specific in her prediction for the Stephen Sommers-helmed pic, as it heads into 3,397 engagements.

“I think that it’s going to be one hell of a weekend at the box office,” Rocco said. “I think that audiences throughout North America are anticipating this film, and when the tallies are in there will cause for celebration by everybody — Vivendi Universal, our producers and our director.”

Record returns?

Sources said tracking numbers for “Mummy Returns,” if taken at face value, would suggest a bow of record proportions. ACNielsen EDI data shows U’s original “Mummy” as the biggest grosser to date for the first weekend of May.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Star Wars — Episode I: The Phantom Menace” holds the record as the biggest pre-Memorial Day May opening to date. The “Star Wars” prequel grossed a mind-boggling $64.8 million over three days after upspooling May 19, 1999.

Meanwhile, though B.O. crystal balls tend to be a little less than crystal clear, EDI veep Dan Marks said the future looks awfully good in this case.

“We know that weather can affect things, but you generally need a blizzard to have an enormous impact,” Marks said. “The other thing is unforeseen competition — maybe someone will do better than expected. But that probably doesn’t apply to ‘Mummy Returns,’ as there’s nothing else coming out.”

Internet movie ticketer Fandango.com began advance ticket sales for this weekend’s showings of “The Mummy Returns” on Wednesday.

“Every indication points to (‘Mummy Returns’) attracting extraordinary crowds this weekend,” Fandango chief Art Levitt said.

In ticket sales through Thursday morning, some 81% of all tickets sold on Fandango.com were for “Mummy Returns.” That represents roughly twice the normal strength of sales for an eventual No. 1 pic in an average week, spokesman John Singh said.

Quiet time

U has been relatively quiet so far in 2001 after finishing second to Disney last year in box office market share. But the studio should gather significant momentum in the next few months.

In addition to boffo prospects for “Mummy Returns,” the studio has event sequel “Jurassic Park 3” set to bow July 20. Though no one doubts “JP3” will do significant business, many observers now believe the “Mummy” sequel will outdistance the latest installment of Steven Spielberg’s modern-dinos franchise, helmed this outing by Joe Johnston (“Jumanji”).

It’s a measure of the huge expectations for “The Mummy Returns” that no other studio has skedded a wide release for this weekend. At least one B.O. vet said that seems a missed opportunity for studios, as a counter-programming move such as releasing a romancer this frame could have proved a winning strategy for some gutsy distrib.

‘Driven’ to distraction

Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone racing-car actioner “Driven,” last weekend’s No. 1 grosser from Franchise Pictures and distrib Warner Bros., will try to hold onto as much of the B.O. track as it can.

“This is going to be ‘Mummy’s’ weekend,” exec veep sales Jeff Goldstein acknowledged. As for the second-weekend prospects for “Driven,” he added, “We’ll see how far we can drive the movie.”

A bigger than usual drop from its opening numbers seems likely if “Mummy” bows in phenom fashion.

Such a development could also eat “Bridget Jones’s” lunch. No. 2 last weekend, Miramax will maintain a 2,500-plus screen count for “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but the distrib is bracing for some rough going in the upcoming frame.

“I think ‘Mummy’ is going to be huge and suck everything up,” Paramount distrib topper Wayne Lewellen said. “I think it’s going to do $40 million-plus for the weekend and is going to take a big bite out of everything.”

Specialty fare

In the specialty market — arguably a separate universe from the commercial theaters “Mummy” will be stalking — Miramax mounts a significant expansion of its limited release “With a Friend Like Harry.” Suspenser moves into top 20 markets after last week’s initial expansion into 10 cities, which followed an April 20 Gotham bow.

Artisan’s “The Center of the World,” which opened earlier this month in three markets, expands to about 15 cities this weekend. Shot on digital video, “Center” tells tale of a cybernerd turned sexual adventurer.

Among arthouse openers this weekend are First Look drama “A Question of Faith,” set for 33 theaters; Shooting Gallery drama “Eureka,” unspooling in 14 theaters; and Universal Focus’ “Pavilion of Women,” the film adaptation of a Pearl S. Buck book, which has nine engagements.