LOS ANGELES, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- With the holiday box-office season about to begin, it's as good a time as any to take stock of some of the major numbers that reflect the performance of the U.S. box office so far in 2001.
According to figures published by box office tracker ACNielsen EDI, movies have grossed $6.4 billion for the year to date -- running 9 percent ahead last year's pace, but not quite enough to threaten the record set in 1999.
The year got off to a hot start with such unexpected hits at "Save the Last Dance" and "The Wedding Planner," while holdovers from 2000 -- including "Cast Away," "Traffic" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," added to their box-office totals as they gained attention during the awards season.
Things really took off when "Hannibal" -- with Anthony Hopkins reprising his Oscar-winning role as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lechter from "The Silence of the Lambs" -- opened with $58 million in February, on the way to $165.1 million. Pictures such as "The Mexican," with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, and "Exit Wounds," with Steven Seagal and a kicking hip-hop soundtrack, turned in respectable -- if not earth-shattering -- grosses.
"Spy Kids" came more or less out of nowhere, opening with $26.5 million at the end of March and going on to gross $112.7 million -- adding a few million more with a special re-release in the fall that include never-before-seen footage.
Overall though, the spring was not a happy time for studios and exhibitors, with receipts falling 5 percent behind the numbers for the spring of 2000.
The summer was a different story, however.
ACNielsen EDI counted record receipts of $2.96 billion through the Labor Day weekend -- 11percent better than summer 2000 and 6 percent ahead of the previous record, set in summer 1999. However, ticket prices were higher and the number of paid admissions was actually down.
"The Mummy Returns" opened with $68.1 million on the first weekend in May -- too early for calendar summer, but close enough to kick off the summer season at the box office. The sequel to the 1999 hit went on to gross $202 million and become the 35th biggest U.S. box-office hit of all time.
While mid-sized hits like "A Knight's Tale" and "Along Came a Spider" attracted decent business, "The Mummy Returns" gave way to an unlikely box-office champion in the form of a cranky, yet loveable lug named "Shrek." The big guy opened with $42.4 million the week before "Pearl Harbor" hit theaters, and went on to gross $267 million -- and become the 13th biggest hit in U.S. movie history, ahead of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Jaws."
At the same time, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor were singing and dancing their way through the unconventional "Moulin Rouge" -- which caused talk in limited release, went on to gross $56.7 million and is now the subject of Oscar buzz.
"Pearl Harbor" cruised into theaters on Memorial Day weekend on a wave of promotion and hype befitting a "big event" movie, and took in $59 million over its opening weekend. The movie failed to satisfy critics or the public to the extent that Disney had hoped, but still went on to gross $198.4 and make it to No. 38 on the all-time list.
Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie went the action-heroine route with "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" in June. Although critics were not kind to the movie adaptation of the popular video game, paying customers showed up to the tune of $131.1 million.
Eddie Murphy continued his hot streak with "Dr. Dolittle 2" ($112.9 million) and Vin Diesel seemed to launch a hot streak of his own, starring in the surprise hit of the summer, "The Fast and the Furious" ($144.5 million).
Two highly anticipated summer pictures -- "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" and Tim Burton's update of "Planet of the Apes" -- had two distinctly different results.
"A.I." -- Steven Spielberg's vision of a screenplay the late Stanley Kubrick had intended to make -- never recovered from negative reviews and topped out at $78.6 million.
One month after "A.I." opened, Burton's energetic take on "Plant of the Apes" opened with $68.5 million and went on to gross $178.7 million.
"Cats and Dogs" -- combining computer effects with live action to create a world in which cats and dogs not only talk, but imagine elaborate plots for world domination -- scored $93.3 million and became one of the year's surprise success stories. Another picture that fell in that category was "Legally Blonde," a light comedy that made a Hollywood heavyweight out of Reese Witherspoon by pulling in $95 million.
"Jurassic Park III" confounded the critics -- some of whom wondered if the world really needed another Jurassic Park movie. It collected $180.5 million and landed at No. 50 on the list of all-time U.S. movie blockbusters.
As the end of the summer season approached, "Rush Hour 2" and "The Princess Diaries" provided a finishing kick.
Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker followed their 1998 hit with a $224.4 blockbuster that finished at No. 25 on the all-time list, just ahead of Robin Williams' 1993 hit, "Mrs. Doubtfire." Julie Andrews scored a triumphant return to the big screen, as "The Princess Diaries" grossed $106.4 million.
"American Pie 2" more or less did was it was supposed to do, as the sequel to a surprise hit of 1999, taking in $144.2 million in the final weeks of the summer. Nicole Kidman's supernatural thriller, "The Others," did what few expected it could do, taking in $98.2 million -- and still counting, after 80 days in release.
The Labor Day weekend set a record for domestic grosses over the four-day holiday, with receipts totaling close to $119 million -- a little more than 1 percent better than the record set in 1999.
The summer season had come to a close and the fall line-up was in place when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in New York. Ever since the attacks, there have been repeated calls -- from President George W. Bush and others -- for Americans to return to their normal routines, even as they exercise greater vigilance about the threat of more attacks.
Moviegoers seem to have been heeding the call.
According to ACNielsen, receipts for the fall season amount to $598 million so far -- 8 percent ahead of last year's numbers.
That sounds positive, under the circumstances, but ACNielsen points out that this fall's numbers are 10 percent behind the numbers for the comparable period in 1999, and virtually even with the numbers for the same period in 1998.
Solid hits such as "Training Day" and "Don't Say a Word" have been outnumbered so far this fall by commercial disappointments such as "Riding in Cars with Boys," "Bandits" and "The Last Castle."
The movie industry had a cool spring, a hot summer and another cool-off in the fall.
With potential hits such as "Monsters, Inc.," "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "The Lord of the Rings" and "Ali" lined up for the holiday season, studios and exhibitors are keeping their fingers crossed that they can put up a strong finish in 2001.
They'd like to head into 2002 in position to share in a recovery that many analysts are projecting for the overall economy.