‘Pie’ pals humble Jen & Ben

'Wedding' rings up $34 mil as gross-out vows wow

This article was updated at 6:21 p.m.

Universal’s “American Wedding” rang box office bells in its opening weekend, chiming in with an estimated $34.3 million to lead a solid, if not spectacular, frame.

But the public boycotted Sony/Revolution’s “Gigli.” Relentlessly bad buzz doomed the Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck caper-romancer to a seventh place tie at $3.8 million with Disney’s 10th weekend of “Finding Nemo.”

“Wedding,” which debuted with $10.8 million less than the 2001 opening of “American Pie 2,” gave Universal its fourth No. 1 opening of the summer after “Bruce Almighty,” “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “The Hulk.”

Holdover biz was also more than respectable, led by Miramax’s soph sesh of “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” at $20.1 million on a 40% decline and Disney’s fourth outing of “Pirates of Caribbean” with $19.1 million, repping a weekend-to-weekend fall of only 17%. Dimension exec Josh Greenstein asserted “Spy Kids 3D” has managed to broaden its draw well beyond its core kids demo.

As for “Pirates,” the Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay action-adventure has cumed nearly $210 million and pushed the Mouse House’s total for 2003 over $1 billion — three months and three days earlier than last year.

“We’re very pleased about ‘American Wedding’ since we’re operating in a world of sequel fatigue,” asserted U distrib head Nikki Rocco. And the exec noted “Wedding” should turn out to be highly profitable, citing a figure of $55 million as the budget. The third version of “American Pie” represented the 10th sequel to open in three months. “Wedding” drew evenly from males and females and attracted a slightly older demo than its two predecessors.

U execs were also buoyed during the frame by the second outing of “Seabiscuit,” which demonstrated serious legs with $17.5 million with a mere 16% decline and helped validate its counterprogramming strategy of releasing a prestige pic in mid-summer. Rocco noted the figure was the smallest soph sesh slide for a wide release since “Chicago” managed to increase its second-weekend total eight months ago and shows the Depression-era drama is receiving strong word of mouth.

“We think this weekend is very indicative of where ‘Seabiscuit’ is going,” Rocco added. The studio added 432 playdates for this frame and will likely maintain the current level in coming weeks.

‘Croft’ sees big dip

Sony’s third weekend of “Bad Boys II” showed some remaining firepower in fifth with $12.7 million, edging Par’s second outing of “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” at $11.3 million as the latter’s 48% decline was the largest in the top 10.

“Nemo” became the 10th pic to hit $320 million in domestic B.O. as it passed “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” on the all-time list while matching “Gigli” after more than two months in multiplexes.

As for “Gigli,” Revolution partner Tom Sherak admitted that the combo of harsh reviews, the plethora of other negative news and the real-life Lopez-Affleck romance created too many distractions for an effective marketing push, despite active efforts by the stars to publicize the project.

“We could never really sell this movie,” he noted. “I can’t agree with the old adage of there being no such thing as bad publicity.”

Sherak noted that Revolution, which has pegged the “Gigli” cost at $54 million, still has a strong track record after 18 pics in the wake of “Anger Management” and “Daddy Day Care” with high hopes for “Radio” this fall.

Rounding out the top 10 were a pair of mid-summer tentpoles with Fox’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” at $3.2 million and Warner’s “Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines” at $2.9 million to lift its cume to $142.7 million — only $3.6 million short of the final domestic for “True Lies,” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most recent major success before “T3.”

U’s third weekend of “Johnny English” finished 11th with $2.6 million at 1,771 engagements, followed by Fox Searchlight’s re-expansion of femme soccer drama “Bend It Like Beckham” with $1.8 million at 1,002 playdates and its sixth weekend of sci-fier “28 Days Later” with $1.6 million at 843. “Beckham” has cumed $28.3 million while “Days” has gone past the $40 million mark.

On the arthouse circuit, Newmarket’s drama “Whale Rider” continued to draw impressively with $1.1 million at 473 sites, lifting its cume to $11.3 million after nine weeks. Miramax’s expansion of suspenser “Dirty Pretty Things” showed clout with $368,000 at 39 playdates, pushing its three-week total to $686,000.

‘Sisters’ has strong bow

Miramax also posted a solid opening for Irish drama “The Magdalene Sisters” with $83,000 at five screens while Par Classics saw respectable returns from its debut of Claude Lelocuh romancer “And Now Ladies and Gentlemen” with $50,000 at half a dozen sites.

Sony Classics’ drama “Masked and Anonymous” grossed $70,355 at 14 playdates to push its cume to $126,005 and its docu “Winged Migration” continued to generate biz with $338,997 at 154 sites, lifting its total to $7.1 million. Cavu’s expanded “The Holy Land” drew $57,000 at 14 engagements; and Par Classics’ “Northfork” took in $158,000 at 65 locations to cume $585,000.

Overall weekend business totaled $145 million, or 7% short of the same frame last year when “Signs” opened with $60 million, according to BO tracker Nielsen EDI. “With the ‘Signs’ opening, there was no way to match the 2002 weekend but it still performed fairly well,” Nielsen EDI VP Dan Marks said.

The weekend left the summer at $2.99 billion, just barely ahead of last summer to date at $2.98 billion. Year-to-date is $5.45 billion, down 2.4% to the $5.58 billion at the same point of 2002.

And with “Pirates” topping $200 million, 2003 has become the first year that a summer season has seen five pix topping the double-century milestone along with “Nemo,” “The Matrix: Reloaded,” “Bruce Almighty” and “X2.” The 2002 summer saw a quartet top the mark with “Spider-Man,” “Signs,” “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember.”

“Wedding” will face competish next weekend from the openings of Sony/Original Films “S.W.A.T” and Disney’s remake of “Freaky Friday.”

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