Greece is the word

'Troy' boys take bite out of 'Van Helsing'

This article was updated at 4:24 p.m.

The boy toys of “Troy” conquered the weekend box office, grossing $45.6 million from 3,411 locations in the epic’s first three days.

No. 2 in the frame was Universal’s “Van Helsing,” which took a heavy 61% drop in its second week to $20.1 million. Pic played in 3,580 theaters.

Though steep, “Van Helsing’s” 61% sophomore slump is not as severe as the 70% dive “The Hulk” took in its second week, diving last June from a $62.1 million open to $18.8 million.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Screen Gems and Sony’s “Breakin’ All the Rules,” opened with $5.3 million for the frame to take fourth place.

The summer B.O. season kicked off last weekend with “Van Helsing,” but the Spartan “Troy” opening — good but not great — means that summer 2004 has yet to produce an out-and-out hit. Many expect “Shrek 2” to become the first real success story next week.

According to Nielsen EDI figures, the season is lagging behind 2003’s. Through the second week of summer, overall box office stands at $254 million — 17% off last summer’s $305 million.

Tops ‘Gladiator’ bow

Warner Bros. noted that “Troy,” which the studio says cost $150 million to produce, was the largest May opening for an R-rated non-sequel, topping “Gladiator,” which debuted with $34.8 million when it was released May 5, 2000. Both pics were hampered by run times over two hours. Among all-time R-rated openers — a list topped by “The Matrix Reloaded” ($91.8 million) and “The Passion of the Christ” ($83.8 million) — “Troy” ranks seventh.

Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman also noted the pic marked the biggest openings for both helmer Wolfgang Petersen (topping the $41.3 million for “The Perfect Storm” in 2000) and star Brad Pitt (passing the first weekend’s $38.1 million for “Ocean’s Eleven” in 2001).

“With that good-looking cast, they’re right on target of where we expected them to be,” Fellman said.

Agreeing with the views of most other distribs, Fellman said the NBA playoffs took a chunk out of Saturday grosses. A well-watched game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, he said, hurt results in both L.A. and Texas markets.

Exit polls for “Troy” showed an audience nearly split between men and women, 52% male and 48% female. Along age lines, the aud was 60% under 30.

Stronger competition

As with “Gladiator,” success on the pricey battle epic will depend on how it plays over time. May was a much less competitive time when “Gladiator” was released in 2000. In its second week, it faced off against “Battlefield Earth,” declining just 29% on its way to a $188 million cume. In its sophomore session next week, “Troy” faces a much stronger contender in DreamWorks’ “Shrek 2,” so it will likely take a steeper drop.

“Van Helsing’s” 61% drop is the steepest yet for a Stephen Sommers pic, though it’s the first time his pics have faced such a big second-week foe. In 1999, “The Mummy” declined 43%; 2001 sequel “The Mummy Returns” dropped 50%.

More distressing are the raw dollar results: “Van Helsing’s” $20.1 million is well behind the second weekend of both pics: $24.9 million for “The Mummy,” $33.7 million for “The Mummy Returns.”

Sony Pictures Releasing prexy Rory Bruer said “Breakin’ All the Rules,” a Jamie Foxx relationship comedy, brought in an aud that was 65% African-American, 60% female and 52% under 25. “The film cost under $10 million to make, so it certainly met our expectations,” Bruer said.

‘Mean’ still strong

Rounding out the week’s top grossers, Paramount’s “Mean Girls” held strong in its third week with a third place finish of $10.1 million from 3,015 locations, down 26% from last week. Cume is now $55.3 million.

At No. 5, “Man on Fire,” from 20th Century Fox and New Regency posted $5.3 million from 2,650 engagements in its fourth weekend, down 36% from last weekend. Cume is $64.3 million.

Overall, Nielsen EDI estimates the weekend’s total box office at $112 million, down 30% from last year, when “The Matrix Reloaded” pumped the frame’s $160.9 million total.

Year-to-date, box office is up 1.2% from 2003, $2.905 billion vs. $2.872 billion.

United Artists’ “Coffee & Cigarettes” bowed with $102,000 from five theaters in Gotham, L.A. and San Francisco. Jim Jarmusch pic posted a healthy $20,400 per-screen average. It adds eight engagements in six more cities next weekend.

Among other limited openers, Wellspring’s “Strayed” debuted with $20,988 from two Gotham screens, an average of $10,494; Lions Gate’s “A Slipping Down Life” picked up $9,000 from five screens, an average of $1,800 per screen; and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Carandiru” opened with $18,000 from six screens in Gotham and L.A.

In its second week, Rialto’s reissue of “Godzilla” on four screens grossed $48,000, upping cume to $111,200.

Roadside Attractions and the Samuel Goldwyn Co.’s doc “Super Size Me” expanded to 113 screens in its second frame. Pic grossed $734,500 for the frame, pushing cume to $1.5 million. Michael Silberman, with the distribs’ joint venture IDP, said the 41 holdover locations saw a modest 22% drop from last week.