B.O. labor daze?

Holiday weekend will wrap soft summer

This article was updated at 9:04 p.m.

It’s all over but the crying — or celebrating, as the case may be.

Summer 2003 winds to a close with this weekend’s Labor Day-lengthened box office frame, but it’s already clear fewer movie tickets have been sold than last summer.

On the other hand, distribs and exhibs will rack up another record batch of grosses, with B.O. exceeding $3.6 billion headed into the weekend.

Two pics hit wide release this weekend — United Artists horror sequel “Jeepers Creepers 2” and Paramount’s re-expansion of its remake of “The Italian Job.”

“Jeepers 2,” set for 3,124 playdates beginning today, had the frame all to itself until a couple of weeks ago, when Par smelled an opportunity. “Job,” skedded for nearly 2,000 engagements, has already rung up $93 million since unspooling May 30.

“The picture did good business, but we got squeezed out of a lot of theaters in the middle of the summer,” Par distribution topper Wayne Lewellen said. “When things get busy in the summer, that does happen.”

Paramount plans a brief media campaign to restoke interest in the action thriller and hopes for grosses at least as substantial as when the distrib pulled a similar stunt with “Braveheart” back in 1995. Mel Gibson starrer, initially an early-summer release, was re-expanded in mid-September and grossed an additional $6 million, $2.3 million over its first weekend.

Meanwhile, “Jeepers 2” stands a good chance of opening atop the weekend B.O., and both “Job” and “Jeepers” should be helped by the dearth of dominating pics in the marketplace at present.

Slashers bled dry?

Last weekend’s openers failed to topple New Line slasher sequel “Freddy vs. Jason,” which repeated atop the B.O. heap for a second consecutive frame — the first summer film to do so. That would seem threatening to “Jeepers” in light of the pics’ obvious audience overlap, but it appears “Freddy” has lost most of its lifeblood with a whopping 63% drop in grosses last weekend compared to its better-than-expected opening frame.

“Certainly it’s encouraging when a film overperforms like that, and it gives us a good feeling going into the weekend,” MGM/UA distribution topper Erik Lomis said. “There’s a huge appetite for horror films out there.”

Most of that hunger will be among younger moviegoers, with “Job” likely to skew somewhat older if its established pattern holds true.

Wimpy weekend

Just who does head to the theaters this weekend remains to be seen, however. Labor Day weekend is the B.O. calendar’s wimpiest four-day frame.

“Families go away and do a lot of other things over the Labor Day weekend, and that’s why it’s not particularly conducive to moviegoing,” said Dan Marks, exec veep of B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. “(So) we typically haven’t seen any tentpole releases over this weekend. We tend to see things that may capture a last flash of summer playtime.”

Warner Bros. suspenser “Feardotcom” was the frame’s top opener last year with a thoroughly unimpressive $7.1 million over the four-day period. Disney’s leggy sci-fier “Signs” took top honors with $17 million over its fifth weekend.

The last couple weekends of summer are additionally diluted by the partial return to classes for the nation’s schoolkids, making Friday matinees and Sunday evening grosses less robust than earlier in the summer. Some 39% of students were back in school by Aug. 22 and 57% by today, according to EDI data.