Weekend Box Office (January 2 - 4, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND A new year has arrived, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the latest box office chart. Once again, Titanic steamed ahead of the pack leaving the other films below the deck with the steerage as it held onto the top spot for the third consecutive frame. Unlike the ocean liner of the same name, this ship truly is unsinkable and is not letting anything get in its way as it sails into box office history. The James Cameron epic disaster tale loaded another $33.3M in ticket sales on board the ship ($1.1M more than originally estimated) as it edged by a microscopic 6% from last weekend. Averaging a still-muscular $12,217 per theater, Titanic has raised its cume to a whopping $157.5M in just 17 days. Its sights are now aimed at crashing through the $200M barrier which it will do by mid-month. With the holidays over, box office attendance is likely to decrease somewhat and will allow Titanic to prove how it can perform under more normal conditions.

With $11.6M, the disaster epic posted the best New Year's Day gross ever. In addition, its Saturday take of $12.7M was the largest one-day gross for the film in its 17 day run so far.

Recommendations from moviegoers and repeat business continue to fuel this juggernaut and it will certainly be the highest-grossing James Cameron film ever surpassing all his collaborations with Arnold Schwarzenegger. By comparison, at the end of its third weekend of release, Paramount's Forrest Gump had collected $109.1M in July of 1994. Like Titanic, Gump was an Oscar-caliber event film which opened strong and played well over a long period of time and eventually ended at $329.7M. Gump opened in just just 1,595 locations but had the starpower of Tom Hanks who had just won the Oscar for Best Actor. After 17 days, Titanic is also running 9% ahead of 1994's The Lion King which ended at $312.8M, and is just 9% behind 1993's Jurassic Park which grossed $356.8M at the domestic box office.

Paramount will look to use Golden Globe and Oscar buzz to keep the engine running well into the late spring. They say if you build it, they will come. Fox is learnng this the hard way. When costs for Titanic went through the roof they hedged their bets by selling domestic rights to Paramount for a cool $65M. Fox, which still has Titanic in the rest of the world, could have had a stronger bottom line had they trusted Cameron and remained the sole financier of the film.

The next three movies all held their places and still showed strong results. Tomorrow Never Dies was down 33% from the Christmas weekend and grossed $13.8M. After 17 days of release, the James Bond adventure film has taken in $92.4M for MGM/UA and should hit $100M by next weekend. Tomorrow also has a very good chance of surpassing the $124M gross of The Birdcage to become the studio's highest-grossing film of the decade.

In third was Sony's As Good As It Gets with $12.2M raising its total to $40.7M in 11 days of wide release and had the smallest decline in the top ten. Off just 3%, the Jack Nicholson starrer had the second-best per-theater average with $7,738 per site, and should also have a healthy run at the box office during the weeks ahead due to word-of-mouth, critical reviews, and award nominations. Mouse Hunt stayed in fourth with $8.4M bringing its cume to $40M in 17 days. The DreamWorks kidpic has performed solidly, despite a slow start, and was the most successful children's picture over the two-week holiday period. At its current pace, Mouse Hunt could reach $55-60M.

Rounding out the top five was Scream 2 which scared up another $7.3M, according to estimates, and spooked its total to a hefty $85.5M for Miramax. It should have no problem matching the $103M gross of the original film. Sophomore Jackie Brown, also from Miramax, dropped 22% and stands at $27.2M after 11 days. Mr. Magoo was down 22% with a $15.6M cume while Disney stablemate An American Werewolf in Paris plunged 42%, the largest drop in the top ten, and has amassed $20.1M in 11 days. Amistad continues to hold its own with a solid average of $6,289 per location in its fourth week as it floated back into the top ten.

Two new films debuted in limited release. The Boxer, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, averaged a potent $31,168 in three locations while Oscar and Lucinda, starring Ralph Fiennes, averaged a less-impressive $11,714 in seven sites. Wag the Dog, starring Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, expanded to 69 houses and grossed $1.2M for a solid $17,322 average. Both Boxer and Wag expand this Friday, January 9th as does Good Will Hunting which continues to play sold-out shows as it averaged $14,259 in 164 sites over the weekend pushing its total thus far to $7.5M. Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry expanded to 443 locations and grossed $2.1M or an average $4,700 per theater.

As projected, most movies had small depreciations as many people were still on vacation from work and school and had extra leisure time to spend at the theaters. Titanic fared better than my 20% predicted drop while Tomorrow Never Dies declined close to my 25% forecast. As Good As It Gets had a remarkable hold and did not drop 20% as predicted.

Overall, the top ten films grossed $99.7M over the weekend which was up 42% from last year and up 58% from 1996.

For a year-end wrapup, be sure to check out Studio Spotlight 1997.

NOTE Starting next week, Box Office Guru goes on location to Nagano, Japan - home of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. I will continue to cover box office for this column and will be joined by guest writer Sujit Chawla contributing from the United States. Regular readers of this column should be familiar with his work on Chief's Movie Review Page.

Below are final studio figures for the weekend. Click on the title to jump to its official home page:

# Title Jan 2 - 4 Dec 26 - 28 % Chg. Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Titanic $ 33,315,278 $ 35,455,673 -6.0 3 $ 12,217 $ 157,467,971 Par.
2 Tomorrow Never Dies 13,798,856 20,480,931 -32.6 3 4,912 92,408,204 MGM
3 As Good As It Gets 12,217,707 12,606,928 -3.1 2 7,738 40,722,657 Sony
4 Mouse Hunt 8,418,001 9,702,770 -13.2 3 3,804 40,021,527 Dream.
5 Scream 2 7,284,026 9,085,992 -19.8 4 2,710 85,492,042 Miramax
6 Jackie Brown 7,264,531 9,292,248 -21.8 2 4,460 27,164,883 Miramax
7 Amistad 4,477,454 5,176,006 -13.5 4 6,289 26,714,127 Dream.
8 An American Werewolf in Paris 4,441,943 7,600,878 -41.6 2 2,566 20,056,331 BV
9 Flubber 4,403,217 5,407,445 -18.6 6 2,250 83,110,113 BV
10 Mr. Magoo 4,103,637 5,233,631 -21.6 2 2,210 15,616,635 BV
Top 5 $ 75,033,868 $ 87,538,550 -14.3
Top 10 99,724,650 120,126,820 -17.0

    This column is updated three times each week : Thursday (upcoming weekend's summary), Sunday (post-weekend analysis with estimates), and Monday night (actuals). Source : Variety, EDI. Opinions expressed in this column are those solely of the author.

    Last Updated : January 5, 1998 at 7:00PM ESTHome

    Written by Gitesh Pandya