U’s B.O. mega-‘Mummy’

Sequel's record $70 million take is gauze for celebration

And so, “The Mummy Returns” — with a screaming vengeance.

Universal’s horror actioner unwrapped $70.1 million in estimated opening grosses. It’s the second-best three-day tally of all time, behind only “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” and tops of any non-holiday bow, beyond even “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace.”

The 1999 “Star Wars” prequel took in $64.8 million over three days in a non-holiday feat previously thought almost unbeatable. The original “Mummy” unspooled to $43.4 million over the May 7, 1999 frame.

Pre-release tracking had most observers predicting a big weekend for “The Mummy Returns,” but not even the rosiest forecast had its B.O. reaching such a rarified height.

“It feels extraordinary; you can never explain your emotions when something like this happens,” U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco beamed. “But what makes me most excited is that it puts such life into the marketplace and helps our ailing exhibition partners. We’ve taken this little piece of Universal history and made it into this huge success.”

The Warner Bros./Franchise Pictures racing pic, “Driven,” starring Sylvester Stallone, finished No. 2 on the weekend with $6.1 million. Though that repped a substantial 50% drop from its opening frame, execs were relieved the impact of “The Mummy Returns” wasn’t even greater.

Exec sales veep Jeff Goldstein said “Driven” may actually have benefited from “Mummy” overflow.

“It draws the exact same audience,” he observed.

Pics slipping into near oblivion last weekend included New Line’s pricey and troubled romantic laffer “Town & Country.” Warren Beatty-Diane Keaton starrer fell 58% to gross only $1.3 million in its second weekend, with a cume to date of $5.2 million.

Likewise, USA Films’ Michael Douglas starrer “One Night at McCool’s,” though a much more modestly budgeted pic, was another sophmore-sesh non-starter, grossing an equally dismal $1.3 million.

Though no additional sequels yet have been announced in the now-proven contempo “Mummy” franchise, U is in production with a spinoff pic, “The Scorpion King,” starring the WWF’s The Rock, who made his acting debut in “The Mummy Returns.”

“We’ve got lightning in a bottle,” U marketing topper Peter Adee said. “There is something about the ‘Mummy’ franchise that excites people and makes them want to see this movie, there’s no question.”

Execs said pic is playing 52% male, with auds spread over all age and ethnic demos.

“We are playing wide and deep,” Adee enthused. “So that tells you we should play for a while.”

Industrywide, the weekend B.O. total of $115 million repped a 30% uptick from the same frame last year. Perf — which saw “The Mummy Returns” contribute 61% of the industry total — follows downbeat year-to-year weekend comparisons over the previous two frames.

“It’s definitely righted our ship from the hiccups of the last two weekends,” said Dan Marks, veep at box office tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Year-to-date B.O. of $2.38 billion is 10% ahead of the 2000 pace.

The new non-holiday mark set by “Mummy Returns” reps a particularly impressive feat when one recalls that theaters often added extra show times for “Phantom Menace,” including some morning and midnight engagements.

The whopping 3,401 venues in which the “Mummy” sequel played did rep a modest boost over the total for “Phantom Menace” and was the fourth-highest number of engagements ever for a bow. The Friday and Saturday single-day totals for “Mummy Returns” are expected to set records when the actual numbers are posted today.

Stacked up against the Friday-through-Sunday grosses of holiday bows, U figures “Mummy Returns” rates a second-best record — below 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and above 2000’s “Mission: Impossible 2.” Both were released over Memorial Day weekends.

In 1999, 20th Century Fox’s “Phantom Menace” came along less than two weeks after “Mummy,” which nonetheless went on to a boffo $155.3 million in domestic cume.

This time around, all eyes will be fixed on the Memorial Day bow of Disney’s “Pearl Harbor,” a World War II romantic actioner already getting a mega-marketing push. But some significant competish to “Mummy Returns” will surface as quickly as Friday, when Sony bows its high-profile adventure pic, “A Knight’s Tale.”

Studio said 766 sneaks of “A Knight’s Tale” were an encouraging 75% full last weekend.

Specialty-market pics seemed a bit less hampered than wide-release fare by the “Mummy Returns” phenom.

Miramax suspenser “With a Friend Like Harry” grossed an amiable 160,000 from 25 engagements — 13 more than previously — for an impressive $6,400 per-venue average and $572,000 cume.

Fox Searchlight’s urban laffer “Kingdom Come” arrived at another $1.2 million from 851 theaters. Despite that lightweight $1,406 per-location average, pic brought its cume to a notable $20.5 million.

Newmarket suspenser “Memento” saw $1.2 million from 408 venues for a $3,020 average and $8.5 million cume. And Artisan drama “The Center of the World” attracted $130,000 from 32 engagements for a $4,062 average and $314,000 cume.

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