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'SCOOBY' SCORES BIG TIME DESPITE MEDDLING CRITICS.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

Scooby-Dooby-Doo, how did you?

The staggering $54.1 million weekend box office numbers for ``Scooby-Doo'' had many in the entertainment industry scratching their heads Monday. The Warner Bros. release was expected to be the weekend's top-grossing film, but few had anticipated such blockbuster figures for the critically panned film.

Final box office tallies released Monday were more than $2 million lower than the $56.4 million estimate given by the studio Sunday. As a result, ``Scooby'' narrowly missed passing the record June opening of ``Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,'' which bowed with $54.9 million three years ago.

Still, Scooby and friends Shaggy, Daphne, Velma and Fred posted the third-best opening weekend of 2002 behind ``Spider-Man'' and ``Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones.'' Warner Bros. reported that the film was rated as either excellent or very good with 92 percent of audiences polled and drew from demographics ranging from ages 8 to 80.

``I think 'Scooby-Doo' just has this incredible crossover appeal, it's sort of like 'Spider-Man,' which appealed to every broad cross-section of audience,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Experts attribute the success to a strong marketing campaign, an ideal release date that left the family audience virtually all to ``Scooby,'' and a high recognition level among kids.

``You couldn't go five blocks on a major street without hearing a kid trying to imitate Scooby, and that's what drives the box office,'' said Robert Bucksbaum, president of Reel Source. ``There was just so much recognition from the cartoon being on television and the trailer.''

Bucksbaum, whose company advises movie theater owners on the prospects of upcoming releases, was one of the only industry experts to predict a $45 million-plus opening gross for ``Scooby.'' He said Warner Bros. was wise to pull away from an earlier marketing strategy that was geared specifically to teens.

``Warner Bros. turned on a dime in its marketing approach,'' he said. ``They changed direction and settled for the family audience and the young teen audience.''

Warner Bros. also premiered the trailer for the upcoming fall release ``Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'' with its showings of ``Scooby-Doo.''

Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros., said the goal of the studio was to succeed in creating a ``Scooby-Doo'' series of films. A ``Scooby'' sequel is already planned for June 2004.

``I think the success of this opening has a lot to do with our consumer product division working in conjunction with production, marketing and the cartoon network to accomplish the goal of producing a 'Scooby-Doo' franchise,'' he said.

The film opened in 3,447 sites and had the advantage of being released the same weekend that the male action-oriented films ``The Bourne Identity,'' ``Windtalkers,'' and ``The Sum of All Fears'' made up the rest of the top four moneymakers. ``Scooby'' also bowed at a time when the year's biggest escapist blockbusters, ``Spider-Man'' and ``Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones,'' are finally beginning to fade.

``What could be more escapist than 'Scooby-Doo?''' asked Dergarabedian. ``Look at the poster. It just looks like pure fun. And given the world situation with all the turmoil, something like 'Scooby-Doo' is a welcome relief. I think parents feel good about taking their kids to something like that.''

This weekend, ``Scooby-Doo'' will find itself competing for the family audience when it squares off against ``Lilo and Stitch,'' the new animated film from Disney. Also opening is the expected blockbuster ``Minority Report'' starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg.

Dergarabedian said this full slate and the surprising phenomenon of ``Scooby-Doo'' will only add to this year's record box office pace.

``This was way beyond what anyone expected, so it's gravy, pure gravy, for what I think there's no question will be a record-breaking summer,'' he said. ``It gives us that little additional boost that maybe wasn't expected.''
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 18, 2002
Words:653
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