'Babe' Brings Home the Box-Office Bacon

Hollywood is getting used to surprises. First it was Hugh Grant. Then a free-spending Walt Disney Co. The latest shocker: A talking pig has gone hoof to toe with Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, and Kevin Costner. And he's hogging a lot of their box-office dollars.

In one of the season's more remarkable success stories, the nation's moviegoers unexpectedly have made the fanciful tale of an upwardly mobile farmyard animal a mild box-office hit.

"Babe" brought in $8.7 million in its debut weekend - and many admissions were half-priced children's tickets. By last Monday "Babe" was making about $1 million a night, Universal said.

In the competitive summer movie season, only films with a discernible hook, a pre-sold plan, or big-name stars tend to succeed. That's part of what makes the early returns for "Babe" so surprising. The movie's human actors are virtual unknowns, and director Chris Noonan has never made a feature film before.

What made "Babe" a success, though, had nothing to do with what Universal did or didn't do. The audience simply discovered the film - and generated a cyclone of recommendations.

To meet the increasing demand, Universal is adding "Babe" to 200 more theater locations, and stepping up a merchandise program.

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