'Kingdom' of Limbo, 'House' of Lax
The official start of the summer movie season was anything but epic, with overall business at $87 million—the lowest since 1999 for the first weekend of May. The box office slump continues, and Hollywood is praying that Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith revitalizes people's interest in moviegoing when it opens May 19.

Kingdom of Heaven, director Ridley Scott's $130 million plus tale about the Crusades, captured $19.6 million at 3,216 locations—the weakest major No. 1 summer kickoff since 1991's Backdraft in terms of tickets sold. According to distributor 20th Century Fox's exit polling, the audience was 66 percent over the age of 25 and 52 percent male.

"I'm delighted with its performance," 20th Century Fox head of distribution Bruce Snyder told Box Office Mojo. "We had it pegged at about $17 million going into the weekend. The market is still a little bit soft. But the picture performed extremely well with audiences, and I think it will be around for a long time."

The Medieval era has been an unappealing subject to audiences in recent decades. At $165.5 million, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the only picture of its ilk to top $100 million domestically, while Braveheart is a distant second at $75.6 million. Aside from those two pictures, the results usually range from disappointment to failure, including A Knight's Tale, First Knight and The 13th Warrior. Not even Midas touch producer Jerry Bruckheimer could resurrect the genre with last summer's King Arthur. The setting also hasn't translated to comedy (Black Knight) nor science fiction (Timeline).

Mr. Scott revived the sword-and-sandal epic after a near 40-year drought with Gladiator in 2000. It opened to $34.8 million at 2,938 venues on its way to $187.7 million, capitalizing on a concise marketing campaign about an underdog and his revenge. Kingdom of Heaven's ad campaign lacked clarity, and it failed to stress the importance of the Crusades and its relevance—many people are unfamiliar with that time of history—whereas ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and recent events carry more recognition.

Lead actor Orlando Bloom, in his first top-billed role after appearing in such costumed epics as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean and Troy, may be short on the dramatic heft needed to attract audiences to what was a tough sell to begin with, as was the case with Colin Farrell in Alexander. His part as Paris in Troy was unflattering, and—fairly or not—he has been branded as more heartthrob than the next Russell Crowe.

Historical war epics rooted in world history typically make three quarters of their worldwide gross outside of the United States and Canada—that was the case for such titles as Troy, The Last Samurai, King Arthur and Alexander. To that end, Kingdom of Heaven amassed an estimated $56 million overseas in around 100 territories—everywhere except Japan and China—ranking No. 1 in virtually all markets in its simultaneous international roll-out.

House of Wax, a very loose remake of the 1953 Vincent Price picture of the same name, left little impression with its $12.1 million opening at 3,111 theaters. The original, presented in 3-D, was one of the most popular movies in its day, but Warner Bros. and Dark Castle Entertainment's $40 million redux was molded into a Texas Chainsaw Massacre clone and melted as a result, indistinguishable from the many horror pictures that have glutted multiplexes lately. The promised on-screen death of co-star Paris Hilton was a hollow ploy; she's just not hot enough for people to care.

With marketing fueled by Barber's Adagio for Strings (music also used in Platoon), Crash gripped a decent $9.1 million at 1,864 sites. Featuring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle and Thandiwe Newton among others, the Los Angeles-set ensemble drama made a more forceful impact out-of-the-gate than such recent, similar movies as Magnolia and Dark Blue.


• 11/28/04 - 'Kranks' Out-Rank 'Alexander'

• 5/17/04 - 'Troy' Rises with $47M, But Not Immortal

• Feature - Islamic Terrorism on Screen

• Feature - Alexander, Unconquered

• Feature - Alexander: Man, Myth and More

• Review - 'Kingdom of Heaven'

• Review - 'Alexander'

• Review - 'Troy'

Weekend Box Office Chart

NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, May 8 and was updated on Monday, May 9 with actual grosses.