The acting team of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks found box office love for the second time in the cyber-romance You've Got Mail, which debuted at No. 1 in North America with $18.7 million.
DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt opened to solid but unspectacular business against fierce competition from Disney's A Bug's Life, estimates showed Sunday.
Overall, the weekend box office was down 22 percent this year, with moviegoers said to be distracted by the U.S. attacks on Iraq and the impeachment proceedings in Washington. Also, the blockbusters Titanic and Tomorrow Never Dies opened on this weekend last year, skewing comparisons.
As expected, the date crowd turned out in force for You've Got Mail, which collected more than $1 million above the take for Sleepless in Seattle five years ago.
Studio polling showed the film's audience was dominated by women (61 percent) and older theatergoers, said Warners Distribution President Barry Reardon.
An older audience also turned out for The Prince of Egypt, the PG-rated animated story based on the Biblical story of Moses. The studio estimated the film's receipts at $14.3 million, placing it second.
It was hardly a stunning debut for a film in which DreamWorks and studio co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg had invested four years and an estimated $70 million to $100 million. Its first weekend take was less than other recent animated features, including Disney's Mulan and DreamWorks' own Antz.
But Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office-tracker Exhibitor Relations, said comparing Prince of Egypt to other animated features is misleading because it "doesn't have those cutesy animals and isn't your usual G-rated, upbeat animated film."
"What do you compare it to? The Ten Commandments?" he asked.
DreamWorks' distribution chief Jim Tharp insisted the studio was "very satisfied" with the opening. DreamWorks also was counting on big Sunday church crowd business.
Prince opened against a strong push by Disney to maintain its audience for A Bug's Life, which finished third with $9.5 million, losing only 15 percent of its business in its fifth week.
Disney took the nearly unprecedented step of changing a film in mid-run by replacing the humorous cartoon "bloopers" at the end of the film with new ones and sweetened the movie experience by sneak-previewing its Christmas release Mighty Joe Young with A Bug's Life.
Star Trek: Insurrection tumbled more than 60 percent from first to fourth place with $8.5 million after its fan base gave way to a less-impressed wider audience.
Here are estimated grosses at North American theaters for Friday through Sunday as compiled by Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures were to be released later Monday:
- You've Got Mail, $187 million
- The Prince of Egypt, $14.3 million
- A Bug's Life, $9.5 million
- Star Trek: Insurrection, $8.5 million
- Jack Frost, $5 million
- Enemy of the State, $4.4 million
- The Rugrats Movie, $3 million
- The Waterboy, $2.9 million
- Psycho, $1.8 million
- Elizabeth, $887,673
Written by Michael Fleeman