"There's Something About Mary" wins an important box office battle

Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” may have won the battle for No. 1 at the box office this weekend (taking in $23.2 million), but third-place “Something about Mary” ($11 million) is steadily marching toward its own important victory: lowest “drop-off” rate. Drop-off — the week-to-week percentage fall in ticket sales — is what indicates that a chart-topping movie like “Ryan” or “Mary” is a bona fide hit. Unlike opening-weekend totals, drop-off rates aren’t just the result of publicity power, but show that a film’s positive word-of-mouth is drawing audiences to theaters.

Many of this summer’s ultra-hyped movies have seen drop-off disaster. After a monster-size opening of $55.7 million, for example, “Godzilla” plunged 68% its second weekend and 46% its third. “Mary,” however, has proved its staying power. Despite facing comic competition from “Mafia!” and “BASEketball,” “Mary’s” drop-off was a mere 12% this week and 9% last week.

“‘Mary’s’ drop-off rate has been so low it’s practically negligible,” says Annice Burdeos, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box office returns. Burdeos says a drop-off rate of 20% or less indicates strong word-of-mouth. “It’s remarkable how ‘Mary’ has held her own against a similar comedy like ‘BASEketball,’ which she buried.” Why “Mary” and not “BASEketball”? “‘Mary’ has broad appeal — young people, old people, couples on a date, everybody. Older people are probably not going to see ‘BASEketball,’ so it may have worn out its welcome.” — Sandra P. Angulo

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