LOS ANGELES -
Hollywood's belief that celebrities can open movies was badly shaken this weekend as Jen & Ben crashed and burned in their summer bummer "Gigli" while "American Wedding" with no big names did $34 million-plus.
"Gigli," Revolution Studios' R-rated gangster romance starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, opened to a limp $3.8 million via Sony (SNE: Research, Estimates)'s Columbia Pictures. The demise of "Gigli," which cost $54 million and is heading for $9-$10 million domestically, could make Hollywood think twice about celebrity driven films.
While Affleck and J. Lo both are high profile celebs, neither is a box office superstar able to ensure big opening grosses. Nonetheless, their casting was a no-brainer in Hollywood and seemed even more promising when they fell in love during production and were in the media spotlight non-stop. Unfortunately, the media didn't fall in love with "Gigli."
|Jennifer Lopez, left, and Ben Affleck. How did movie audiences pronounce 'Gigli'? Ugh.
"It had a stench going in," explained one competing studio executive. "Ben Affleck's not a superstar. Audiences like Jennifer Lopez in things that are appealing, but a lesbian hitwoman is not an endearing character."
Affleck and Lopez both have done better before. Lopez played a hotel maid who finds romance in the comedy "Maid in Manhattan," which grossed nearly $94 million. Affleck was a spandex-clad superhero in the comic book fantasy "Daredevil," which did $102.5 million.
Despite being lean on celebrity names, "American Wedding" from Vivendi Universal's (V: Research, Estimates) Universal Pictures eloped with $34.3 million. The third in Universal's "American Pie" franchise, its launch compares respectably to "Pie 2," which arrived to $45.1 million in August 2001 and did $145.1 million domestically. "Wedding" is heading for a very profitable $100 million and should also do well in DVD release.
"What's so great is that this is a moderate budgeted film that's probably going to be the most profitable for the studio this year," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco told me. "There's no back-end participations in it and it only cost us $55 million to make. This is a franchise that we built from the ground floor."
|"American Wedding" stars Jason Biggs, left, and Alyson Hannigan.
In its exit polls, Rocco said, "The scores were above average, particularly from the under-25 group, which is the target audience. Fifty-seven percent was under 25 (while with) 'American Pie 2' 67 percent of the audience was under 25. Seventy-seven percent was under 25 for the original."
"The public has grown to love these characters and the fact that this culminates in a wedding might have something to do with (its audience) getting a little bit older," Rocco added. "For the core audience, it was 92 percent in the top two boxes (excellent and very good)."
Universal's critically acclaimed adult drama "Seabiscuit," co-financed with DreamWorks, expanded its run and showed great legs. It finished a strong fourth with $17.5 million, down only 16 percent.
"That's an unbelievable hold," Rocco said. "I (looked back) and there has not been any film since Feb. 7 when 'Chicago' went wide that held as well. In 10 days it's done nearly $50 million. It's obvious the picture has the ability to go past $100 million."
It also was another outstanding weekend for Disney (DIS: Research, Estimates). The family comedy sequel "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" from Dimension Films, a unit of Disney's Miramax Films, was second with $20.1 million, off 40 percent. Its 10-day cumulative total is $69 million, heading for $100 million or more.
Buena Vista/Disney's action adventure "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" was third with $19.1 million, down just 17 percent. With $209.8 million on board, it should sail to $250 million.
BV said that as a distributor it passed the $1 billion gross mark for the year Sunday. It achieved that milestone three months faster than in previous years.
-- Martin Grove appears Mondays on CNNfn's "The Biz," which airs at 12:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., ET.