by Brandon Gray
July 20, 2000

Hoping to repeat the success they had with The Haunting on the same weekend last year, DreamWorks opens another horror picture, What Lies Beneath, a sort of Fatal Attraction-meets-The Sixth Sense. This time they added a healthy dose of star power from Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer and director Robert Zemeckis, whose last picture was 1997's Contact.

Ford's been in a slump lately as, in the past five years, only Air Force One's $173 million gross was befitting of his perceived box office stature. Last year, he suffered one of the biggest bombs of his career with Random Hearts ($31.1 million total). Overall, his 90's output has been mired in ponderousness and somberness. That's why he's always pestered about doing another Indiana Jones. People want to see him smile and swagger again, confidently and not uncomfortably like in Six Days, Seven Nights. Even in his 1980's dramas like Witness and The Mosquito Coast, there was some verve there. What Lies Beneath doesn't appear to be a change for the better though, but it is a thriller, something people like to see him in.

Ford found box office success before with another mystery involving the effects of infidelity as Presumed Innocent grossed $86.3 million back in 1990. Air Force One opened on the same weekend in 1997, and Ford's other big hits this past decade have been late summer entries as well, The Fugitive and Clear and Present Danger.

Pfeiffer has never been big box office, peaking in the mid-nineties with Batman Returns, Dangerous Minds and others. Lately, she's starred in a parade of bombs, such as The Deep End of the Ocean ($13.5 million) and The Story of Us ($27.1 million). The failure of those, though, was more due to their similarities to TV movies-of-the-week than to the public's tiring of her. Pfeiffer as haus-frau just doesn't appeal. When she's possessed in Beneath though, it's a return to the cat-like sultriness that made her a star to begin with.

The marketing campaign has been rather subdued overall, almost anti-climactic given the picture's pedigree. One ad's voiceover says "Some men cheat and get caught. Some men pay a higher price." Then this cheesy guitar riff kicks in, making it look like a total camp-fest. The closing clip, that's consistent throughout the campaign, hits the target though. Hovering over Ford by a candlelight, Pfeiffer utters "I think she's starting to suspect something," Ford says "Who?," then she leans forward, an eerie glimmer in her eye, as she purrs "Your wife." The trailer seems to give much away, but is exciting nonetheless. Double Jeopardy, appealing to a similar demographic, seemed to give away everything in its ad campaign, and it was the surprise smash of the Fall, opening to $23.2 million and reaching $116.7 million.

Last year, The Haunting's $33.4 million opening was the start of the biggest horror boom in recent history, as The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project and others followed. Circumstances were different then, with a long horror drought preceding it, some phenomenal marketing campaigns and the millennial anxiety. Still, Beneath should benefit from being the first real scary movie of the season. Appeal doesn't appear to be as broad as The Haunting's though. It skews more towards older women who tend not to rush out, likely muting the opening weekend slightly.

Like The Sixth Sense and Double Jeopardy before it, this is a picture that, based on its premise and ad campaign, looks like it shouldn't make any money, but most likely will. Haunting more than 2,500 theaters, What Lies Beneath could reach the mid-twenty million range, likely lying beneath X-Men for second place.

The seizure-inducing, poorly animated Pokemon returns to the big screen just eight months after the first movie, presumably to kill whatever brain cells remain in its zombie-fied kiddie following.

The First Movie had the biggest non-summer Wednesday opening last November with $10.1 million, and then made $31 million over the weekend. Its total after five days was $50.8 million, or 59% of the $85.7 million it ended up with. Warner Bros. is repeating the card giveaway strategy that beefed up that opening. Couple that with the summer Friday opening, and the second movie is a real wild card.

Maybe its just wishful thinking, but it seems that the fad has faded. X-Men probably satiated many kids, leaving fewer chomping at the bit for this. Furthermore, parents will hopefully be less apt to take the tykes this time now that they know what they are getting themselves into after sitting through the first one.

For a kiddie fad comparison, the sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opened to $20 million from 2,868 theaters a year after the first one did $25.4 million from 2,006. It ended up with $78.7 million, 58% of the original's $135.3 million. The second Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers grossed just $8.1 million, nearly two years after the first did $37.8 million.

Warner Bros. may sense the fad's imminent demise as they are opening it at 2,752 theaters, when they opened the first one at 3,043. Sequels almost invariably get more screens than the original. On the other hand, the summer has thus far been devoid of a truly dominant kid picture as Dinosaur died out quickly, Chicken Run has been more of a sleeper, and the rest have just bombed. Furthermore, it's opening in the George of the Jungle/Inspector Gadget slot that Disney left open. So an opening in the mid-twenty million range seems to be in store, then again this thing is way out of my radar.

Loser's title begs one to say "winner" or "loser" in reference to its box office. I'll try to resist such an obvious quip. The romantic comedy stars American Pie alumni Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari under the direction of Amy Heckerling, whose uneven filmography ranges from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Look Who's Talking Too. Her last picture, Clueless, opened on this same weekend back in 1995 to $10.6 million. The teeny bopper remake of Jane Austen's Emma ended up with $56.6 million. Its influence was far greater than its box office though, as it paved the way for the current teen craze and lead to other teeny bopper-ized versions of classic literature, such as Cruel Intentions (Les Liaisons Dangeureuses) and 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew).

Biggs co-starred last month in another teen appeal, college-set romantic comedy, Boys and Girls. It opened to $7 million from 1,983 theaters and will likely end its run with just $21 million. Loser has a release date more conducive to success with teens, but, like Boys, it has nary a laugh among the many attempts in its marketing campaign. Two of the jokes are merely pop culture references to Fargo and the Backdoor Boys (which will make the picture not age well if representative of the whole). Another one has the main character say "chill in" instead of "out." Now, it may be funny contextually, but it just comes off as too strained and obvious to work in the ads. And, of course, there's that ska music that's always playing over these kinds of pictures.

Scary Movie and The In Crowd represent the closest competition for its teen girl target. Opening at 2,016, Loser won't take all, likely debuting out of the top five with a modest $6-7 million.

The In Crowd should be the real loser though. It wasn't screened for critics, and the ad campaign has that "pre-destined to tank" vibe. Warner Bros. also released the similarly advertised Gossip earlier this year. It opened to just $2.3 million en route to $5.1 million. Crowd made $662,495 on Wednesday, likely translating to a bit more than that other teen exploitation flick. It's rated PG-13 though, so it probably doesn't have the explicitness required to make up for its other deficiencies. Alas, no three-ways a la Wild Things. Just a few years ago, trash like this would have made next to nothing, such as the Luke Perry starrer Terminal Bliss did. Today, it will likely more than double that, say, an opening in the $3 million range from 1,357 theaters, hopefully placing the In Crowd out of the top ten though.

X-Men turned out to be the picture that released all of the pent-up demand for an event this summer. Both fanboys and people with lives rushed to see it. Since the industry slavishly follows the tracking and other services provided by the notorious N.R.G., it was stunned by the $54.5 million, as tracking suggested the high twenty million range, 35 at most. Word-of-mouth and buzz over its business should contribute to a better than average hold for the genre this weekend. Look for a Marvel-ous gross in the thirty million range, as the X-Men fend off all contenders to remain in the top spot.

Scary Movie should drop another 40% or so to the $15 million range, pushing it past $100 million and past any of the Scream movies. The Perfect Storm should round out the top five with around $11 million if it abates by another 35% or so.

Over the same frame last year, the aforementioned Haunting spooked $33.4 million for first place, yet failed to reach the vaunted century mark, petering out at $91.2 million. Inspector Gadget came in second with $21.9 million but eventually out-grossed it, reaching $97.4 million total. Eyes Wide Shut collapsed by 54% to $10.1 million on its way to $55.7 million. Meanwhile, Drop Dead Gorgeous opened in eleventh with an ugly $4 million en route to $10.6 million.

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