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Audiences still smitten with Will Smith's 'Hitch'

LOS ANGELES -- Keanu Reeves went to hell and back, but he could not unhitch Will Smith from the top of the box office.

Smith's romance "Hitch" remained the No. 1 weekend movie with $31.8 million, narrowly beating Reeves's demonic thriller "Constantine," which debuted in second place with $30.5 million, according to studio estimates yesterday.

The girl-and-her-dog tale "Because of Winn-Dixie" won bragging rights as the weekend's family-film winner over the baby-with-superpowers comedy "Son of the Mask." "Because of Winn-Dixie" opened at No. 3 with $10.85 million, and "Son of the Mask" opened at No. 4 with $7.7 million.

Hollywood continued its strong early-year showing, with the top 12 movies taking in $119.1 million, up 13 percent from Presidents' Day weekend last year.

If the figures hold when final numbers are released tomorrow, that would make it the second-best Presidents' Day weekend ever, behind the $123.8 million total in 2003, when "Daredevil" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" led the box office.

"Hitch," with Smith playing a "date doctor" for romantically hopeless men, pushed its 10-day total to $90.1 million and will become the first movie released in 2005 to top the $100 million mark.

The movie's weekend haul was down just 26 percent from its $43.1 million debut, a solid performance given that revenues for big-studio films often plunge 50 percent or more in the second weekend. Smith's presence made "Hitch" an easy sell for the male audience.

"This is one of those romantic comedies that appeals to men and women equally because of Will Smith," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

"Constantine," adapted from the DC Comics "Hellblazer" series, stars Reeves as the title character, a man who dispatches hell's minions back to the underworld.

Executives at "Constantine" distributor Warner Bros., which also released Reeves's "Matrix" franchise, said they were satisfied with the opening weekend even though the movie was not No. 1. Like the "Matrix" flicks, "Constantine" carried an R rating, limiting the under-17 audience.

"For an R-rated movie, this is fabulous," said Dan Fellman, Warner head of distribution. "It was only our goal to reach the opening of the original 'Matrix,' and we exceeded that."

"The Matrix" had an opening weekend of $27.8 million in April 1999.

Best-picture contenders for next weekend's Academy Awards continued to hold well, with the boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby" coming in at No. 5 with $7.2 million, raising its total to $54.7 million.

The Howard Hughes epic "The Aviator" was ninth with $4.2 million, lifting its domestic gross to $88.1 million. The wine-country comedy "Sideways" finished 10th with $3.9 million, increasing its total to $58.1 million.

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