`Hollow Man' Tops Box Office

Monday, August 7th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An invisible mad scientist beat a portly professor, a band of grumpy old astronauts and a bunch of babes on a bar.

``Hollow Man,'' starring Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth Shue, materialized as the No. 1 film over the weekend, debuting with $26.8 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Last weekend's top movie, ``Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,'' slipped to second place with $18 million. Clint Eastwood and crew opened in third with ``Space Cowboys,'' a tale of aging pilots on a NASA mission, taking in $17.6 million.

``Coyote Ugly,'' about an aspiring songwriter who lands a job strutting on a rowdy nightclub bar, premiered at No. 4 with $17 million.

With three diverse new movies and a strong holdover in ``Nutty Professor,'' the overall box office still lagged far behind the same period in 1999. The top 12 movies grossed $116.5 million, down 15.3 percent from the same weekend a year ago.

``The marketplace is not expanding. You had three huge movies that opened and were highly anticipated, and this marketplace couldn't expand?'' said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. ``I wish the business was better.''

To date, this summer's box office is off slightly from last year, when revenues hit a record $3 billion, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie-ticket sales.

Given a weak crop of films opening before Labor Day, Hollywood seems to have little chance of meeting last year's high. Last August was buoyed by the surprise smashes ``The Blair Witch Project'' and ``The Sixth Sense.''

``They call it the dog days of August for a reason, but last year changed all that. It became the strong days of August,'' Dergarabedian said. ``Holdovers did well, and new movies came in strong. I don't know if we'll see that this year.''

Hollywood's movie lineup this season simply has not stacked up to last year's. ``Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace'' fired up summer 1999, followed by an ``Austin Powers'' sequel, ``Tarzan,'' Adam Sandler's ``Big Daddy,'' ``American Pie'' and Julia Roberts' ``Notting Hill'' and ``Runaway Bride.'' Even Stanley Kubrick's ``Eyes Wide Shut,'' while ultimately disappointing film-goers, built anticipation and got audiences thinking about going to movies.

This summer's successes have been solid but more modest overall. ``Mission: Impossible 2'' is the only movie to top $200 million, and ``The Perfect Storm'' has hit $165 million. ``Scary Movie'' has been the only surprise blockbuster, hitting $140 million and surpassing ``Good Will Hunting'' as Miramax's top-grossing movie ever.

If the weekend numbers hold, ``Hollow Man'' would become the biggest August debut ever, beating ``The Sixth Sense's'' $26.7 million. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, ``Hollow Man'' features dazzling visual wizardry.

``Audiences were very ripe for an invisible man story, and clearly, the special effects are just incredible,'' said Ed Russell, executive vice president for publicity at Sony, the movie's distributor.

``Space Cowboys,'' directed by Eastwood and co-starring Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner, was Eastwood's best-ever opening. The movie drew mainly older audiences, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released ``Space Cowboys.''

``Coyote Ugly'' attracted largely female crowds, with half the audience under 21, said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, whose Touchstone label released it.

In limited release, ``Saving Grace'' grossed $290,000 at 30 cinemas, a healthy opening average of $9,630 a theater. The comedy stars Brenda Blethyn as a widow who grows marijuana to make ends meet.

``The Tao of Steve,'' starring Donal Logue as a chubby womanizer, debuted at nine theaters with $90,407, averaging $10,045.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures are to be released Monday.

1. ``Hollow Man,'' $26.8 million.

2. ``Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,'' $18 million.

2. ``Space Cowboys,'' $17.6 million.

4. ``Coyote Ugly,'' $17 million.

5. ``What Lies Beneath,'' $13.9 million.

6. ``X-men,'' $6.1 million.

7. ``Scary Movie,'' $4.2 million.

8. ``The Perfect Storm,'' $3.8 million.

9. ``Disney's The Kid,'' $2.9 million.

10. ``The Patriot,'' $2.3 million.

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