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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Grace saves Hollywood summer
Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson
Smoking success: The film is a surprise US hit
British comedy Saving Grace has emerged as one of the US box office's surprise hits of the summer - in what has been a slow season for American cinema.

The film, which sees Brenda Blethyn play a marijuana-growing widow, opened at 30 screens three weeks ago, but it is now showing on 800 to cash in on Monday's Labor Day public holiday.

Distributors Fine Line had only planned to open it across 200 screens.

Martin Clunes
Martin Clunes also stars in the film
"Saving Grace is demonstrating all the characteristics of becoming a major international hit," said Philip Reid, chairman of film rights company PrimeEnt.

Last week, it averaged takings of $3,351 (2,309) at each one of its 250 screens - more than hits like X-Men and Hollow Man.

Blethyn plays Grace Trevethen, a widow who is deep in debt and lives in a mansion on the Cornish coast.

When she revives her gardener's ailing cannabis plant, she realises how she can pay off her debts.

It was released in the UK in May, and took 3m - a tenth of Gladiator's box office haul, but considered a good showing because of the film's low budget.

Saving Grace has been one of the highlights of what one Hollywood executive called a "mediocre" summer.

This year's summer takings have fallen well short of 1999's $3 billion (2.06 billion), thanks to a lack of slow-building 'sleeper' hits like The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense.

Last year also saw smashes like Star Wars; Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Notting Hill and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Star Wars
Darth Maul: Star Wars dominated the box office in 1999
Lions Gate Films co-president Mark Urman said: "It was a mediocre summer in general. It seemed a little tepid - it took some time for the hits to come, and they were predictable hits."

Tracking firm Exhibitor Relations predicts that between Memorial Day weekend - the last weekend of May - and this weekend's Labor Day holiday, box offices will have taken $2.75 billion (1.9 billion).

The company's president Paul Degarabedian said this year's crop of films had also suffered because of the reality TV hit Survivor.

"Blair Witch and Sixth Sense were cultural phenomena happening a year ago that people were talking about.

"This year, we're talking about Survivor. That hurts the movie industry, because people stayed home to watch up. The public just didn't get pumped up against movies like last year."

Mission: Impossible 2 was the biggest hit, taking over $200m (137m), followed by The Perfect Storm, X-Men and Scary Movie, which all topped $150m (103m).

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See also:

31 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Sundance success stories
22 Mar 99 | The Oscars 1999
Brenda Blethyn and a pinch of salt
24 Aug 00 | Entertainment
US TV's million-dollar Survivor
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