By Indiewire | Indiewire August 30, 2004 at 2:0AM
Better Late Than Never, "Hero" a Hit In U.S. Release
by Eugene Hernandez
Zhang Yimou's "Hero," a two-year-old foreign language, martial arts film from China topped the national domestic box office this weekend earning nearly $18 million, according to estimates from distributor Miramax Films. The film made an estimated $17.8 million on 2,031 screens for an opening weekend per screen average of $8,764. "Hero," starring Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi and others, set records in its debut, a release that seemed unlikely at times over the past year as distributor Miramax bumped its debut date numerous times.
The film's grosses topped industry expectations. Late last week, Hollywood trade paper Variety predicted that the movie would debut with opening weekend numbers of about $10 million. Brandon Gray from the box office tracking site, BoxOfficeMojo.com, noted that the movie was the largest late August opening ever, greater than "Bring It On's" $17.4 million, if the estimate holds up. The film's release on 2,031 screens tops the expansion of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" which hit 2,027 screens on its way to making $128 million.
Miramax acquired "Hero" back in early 2002, after Sony Pictures Classics' phenomenal success with "Crouching Tiger," but the Weinstein's ultimately delayed the release of the movie. The film opened in Asia in late 2002 and was expected in the U.S. last year after it was nominated for a 2002 Academy Award. Miramax set and canceled numerous release dates for the picture late last year and this year, finally settling on the August debut after its release of Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films.
Over lunch in Cannes this year, director Yimou joked that the anticipated release of "Hero" in the U.S. might actually follow the debut of his latest film, "House of Flying Daggers" (acquired by Sony Classics at the festival in France and due in theaters later this year). After paying more than $20 million for multiple territory rights, Miramax sought to edit the film but facing resistance from Tarantino, who loved the film, later added his name as a presenter credit to gain greater attention for the release. Zhang recently told indieWIRE that Miramax asked Tarantino to cut film, but that the American director rejected the offer.
[indieWIRE will publish additional weekend box office coverage in Wednesday's box office column.]