‘Mummy’ emerges from Italo crowd

Weather, tense election trigger late start

Italian cinemas were as quiet as a graveyard when “The Mummy Returns” launched May 11 — but Stephen Sommers’ rollicking adventure quickly came back from the dead.

Blame the tardy start on a combo of brilliant weather, an unexpectedly tense election battle, and the fact that distrib UIP wasn’t given a sporting chance. UIP knew well in advance that elections were on May 13. It had even resigned itself to going up against a TV debate between the main political rivals. But the distrib didn’t count on the “Mummy” returning on a day that featured two soccer matches, both involving teams with huge followings, which were moved up to that night. Hence, theaters were virtually deserted.

While biz rallied on Saturday and Sunday, two rival distribs insist they would not have released the film on an election weekend.

UIP execs bristle at that suggestion and point out that despite its Friday shortfall, the pic set an all-time opening weekend record for May in the territory, and accounted for 70% of the top-10 titles’ receipts.

Moreover, because prints weren’t ready, UIP couldn’t release “Mummy” earlier. And going later would have shortened the window before “Pearl Harbor,” which bows June 1.

The sequel traded strongly on weekdays (other than the opening Friday), about 30% below the first “Mummy” (which launched late August, traditionally a more lucrative period) but close to “Gladiator,” resulting in a six-day haul of $2.6 million on 392 screens.

The remaining question: Can the sequel make up for the lost business and go on to match or overtake the predecessor’s $16.3 million gross?

There were no distractions in Australia, where the Brendan Fraser-Rachel Weisz headliner minted $3.5 million on 349 — 43% higher than the original (which bowed on 256) and UIP’s fourth-biggest opening week there behind “Mission: Impossible 2,” “Gladiator” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.”

The thriller commanded 60% of the top 20 titles’ B.O. in Oz. UIP was expecting a monster May 18-20 frame as “The Mummy Returns” was let loose in 21 territories.

Other distribs laid low last week, reflected in blah trading in many markets. The Cannes fest sent the Gallic B.O. into a tailspin, as many folks tuned into nightly TV coverage of the event and distribs didn’t offer anything to challenge “Amelie From Montmartre,” which reigned in its third lap. An exec at exhib UGC says the French are snubbing standard fare in anticipation of seeing some of the films that debuted in Cannes.

“Dracula 2000” was slaughtered by the critics, prompting one to say the pic is so dull he had to resort to counting sponsor Virgin’s recurring logo to stay awake. Miramax’s horror item had a middling bow in Mexico, but corpsed in Norway; its cume is a meager $9.6 million from 26 territories.

Lee Tamahori’s “Along Came a Spider” fared tolerably in France, considering the overall low attendance, corpsed in Belgium and ranked first in Taiwan, with a modest $201,000 in five days on 45.

After a reasonably good world preem in the U.K., John Madden’s “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” tumbled by 45%, tuning up $6 million in 13 days. However that decline was in line with the market’s overall trend and exacerbated by warm weather. Exhibs say the Nicolas Cage-Penelope Cruz starrer is generating favorable word of mouth. Even the pacesetter “Bridget Jones’s Diary” sagged in its fifth outing. Aussie hit “The Dish” garnered glowing reviews, but that had no discernible effect on paltry ticket sales.

“The Wedding Planner” clung to pole position in its soph session in Germany, despite a 52% plunge, and entered Mexico in second spot (behind local rookie “The Second Heir”) with a respectable $540,000 in three days on 200, just 11% below “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” But the Jennifer Lopez starrer hasn’t won many hearts in the rest of Latin America, where it’s pocketed just $1.7 million.

“Men of Honor” bombed in Germany, where one booker notes auds are apathetic about what he terms “U.S. military” themes, and its cume inched along to $26.1 million.

Gore Verbinksi’s “The Mexican” has ransomed approximately $46.3 million, spurred by a sturdy fourth round in Japan and handy contributions including Italy’s $4.7 million, the U.K.’s $4.3 million in 20 days, Mexico’s $3.5 million and South Korea’s $2.1 million.

Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Enemy at the Gates” captured a ho-hum $198,000 on 16 in Hong Kong and a mild $430,000 in five days on 152 in Mexico, but was buried on 15 screens in Argentina.

For a Gallic import, “The Crimson Rivers” has been notching impressive numbers in Germany, Spain, Mexico and Greece. But the thriller has barely caused a ripple in Japan, restricted to a handful of screens, and Sweden.

“Hannibal” hit $172.1 million, driven chiefly by Japan’s $28.7 million, while “What Women Want” is winding down after a phenom run with $187.9 million. “Miss Congeniality” reached $86.1 million, and will surely hit $100 million after its June 9 debut in Japan.

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