Opening against the summer's first blockbuster, Heath Ledger's movie looks to place a strong second

By EW Staff
Updated May 11, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

A Knight's Tale

  • Movie

Following ”The Mummy Returns” into the movie marketplace is not unlike waltzing into a 3,000 year old cursed tomb: brazen and perilous. Analysts say it will be nearly impossible for this weekend’s big newcomer, the quirky Middle Ages adventure ”A Knight’s Tale,” to defeat the undead box office bully, which snagged a record $68.1 million debut last weekend. But thanks to a slick marketing campaign by distributor Columbia, the jousting fantasy — which could be a starmaking vehicle for actor Heath Ledger — still has a chance for some rock & roll returns.

”Mummy” is pretty much guaranteed to gobble up the biggest share of the movie market — ”unless of course hell freezes over,” says Robert Bucksbaum of box office tracking firm Reel Source. It is expected to score about $40 million in ticket sales, 45 percent off its first week audience — a drop analysts say is normal for a sequel with an ultrazealous fan base. ”When you have a film with a large cult audience, it’s just not cool to see it on the second weekend,” says Gitesh Pandya of

Meanwhile, ”Knight” should gallop into the No. 2 position with as much as $15 to $20 million, says Bucksbaum. (Pandya is more optimistic, predicting ”low $20s.”) This is quite a turnaround. Earlier this year, tracking polls indicated that moviegoers had little interest in the genre twisting movie, which sets its adolescent coming of age plot about a 14th century servant with knightly ambitions to a soundtrack of blaring ’80s arena rock. (Picture mud smeared peasants chanting Queen’s ”We Will Rock You,” and you get the idea.)

But analysts say Columbia has transformed ”Knight”’s oddity into a savvy marketing campaign, creating TV ads that highlight the movie’s wildly disparate elements: There’s a love story (between Ledger and newcomer Shannyn Sossamon), wisecracking comedy (English actor Paul Bettany plays a bawdy young Geoffrey Chaucer), and action (swordfighting, jousting, more jousting). ”The studio’s been flooding sporting events and male oriented TV programs with the ‘Gladiator’ hardcore beating guys up, smash them with your sticks type stuff,” says Bucksbaum. ”Then the female market’s being saturated with Heath Ledger photos.”

And experts say ”Knight” could actually benefit from its proximity to the first blockbuster of summer. ”So many young couples went to see ‘The Mummy’ last weekend, they’re going to be looking for something else to do,” says Dan Marks, vice president of ACNielsen. ”’Knight’ could ride some good coattails into the marketplace.”

Still, ”Knight” is one of the more fiscally risky releases of the summer. ”People complain about how Hollywood pumps out the same drivel over and over again, sequels and remakes and what have you,” says Pandya. ”Then Hollywood brings out something original, like this movie, and people often just reject it and go see some sequel over and over again.”

Episode Recaps

A Knight's Tale

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 132 minutes