Movie-goers turned their peepers on "Jeepers Creepers," a horror flick that topped the box office with a record debut for a film opening over Labor Day weekend.
The tale of a sister and brother preyed upon by a bestial killer, "Jeepers Creepers" took in $15.8 million during the four-day weekend, according to studio estimates Monday. That topped the previous debut record of $9.8 million for "The Crow: City of Angels" in 1996.
Typically a quiet weekend for theaters, Labor Day is not known for big film debuts. The weekend often is dominated by holdover films in the No. 1 spot such as last year's "Bring It On" or "The Sixth Sense" in 1999. "The Sixth Sense," which was in its fifth week of release, still holds the overall record gross for Labor Day weekend with $29.3 million.
"O," an update of Shakespeare's "Othello" that was the weekend's other new film, debuted with $6.9 million. Set in a Southern boarding school, "O" stars Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles.
The weekend could break the overall Labor Day box-office record set in 1999. The top 12 films over Labor Day in 1999 grossed $88.8 million, compared with $94.7 million this past weekend.
"It was a fitting end to what's going to wind up being a record summer," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office.
Hollywood's summer revenue is pushing $3.1 billion, breaking the 1999 record of just under $3 billion. With ticket prices up an estimated 10 percent in the last two years, actual movie attendance was down a bit from 1999, though.
Released by MGM's United Artists banner, "Jeepers Creepers" is the first film the studio released under a deal with Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope company. Coppola was an executive producer on "Jeepers Creepers."
Though horror films generally do not hold up well after opening weekend, "Jeepers Creepers" should turn a tidy profit for MGM-United Artists, which acquired domestic distribution rights to "Jeepers Creepers" for just $2.5 million.
"It's been a while since there's been a real, right-on horror movie with a good, old-fashioned monster," said Robert Levin, MGM's head of distribution. "There's a group of people who probably don't go to many movies other than those. We got them, and we interested other people enough to come see it."
Playing in 2,944 locations, "Jeepers Creepers" averaged $5,379 a theater, compared with a $4,812 average in 1,434 cinemas for "O."
After the Columbine school shootings, the release of "O" was delayed for two years because of its harsh depiction of teen violence. Original distributor Miramax decided against releasing it and sold the film to Lions Gate, an independent film company that has taken chances on such edgy films as "Dogma" and "American Psycho."
Rainy weather in much of the country probably boosted movie attendance, and this year's heavy slate of summer films also helped bring in the crowds over the slow holiday weekend where peopltypically squeeze in end-of-summer barbecues and other outdoor activities.
"I think you have a lot in the marketplace. There's something for everybody, and people are catching up on what they didn't see during the summer," said Rick Myerson, general sales manager for 20th Century Fox. "This weekend was maybe the last opportunity for a lot of people to see those movies."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures are to be released Tuesday.
1. "Jeepers Creepers," $15.8 million.
2. "Rush Hour 2," $11.8 million.
3. "American Pie 2," $11.7 million.
4. "The Others," $10 million.
5. "Rat Race," $9.2 million.
6. "The Princess Diaries," $7.6 million.
7. "O," $6.9 million.
8. "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," $6.4 million.
9. "Summer Catch," $5 million.
10. "Capt. Corelli's Mandolin," $4.1 million.
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