Weekend Box Office (January 8 - 10, 1999)
*** Studio Spotlight 1998 - Year in Review ***
THIS WEEKEND John Travolta litigated his way back to the number one spot with the legal thriller A Civil Action which topped the box office with $15.2M according to final studio figures. The estimate was about $700,000 better than originally estimated as studios across the board underestimated Sunday ticket sales. After playing in New York and Los Angeles for two weeks, the Buena Vista release opened nationwide in 1,802 locations and averaged a terrific $8,415 per courtroom which was easily the best among all wide releases. A Civil Action also delivered the second best January opening ever behind the Star Wars Special Edition which debuted with $35.9M two years ago. With a strong opening, a meaty average, and good reviews, A Civil Action should enjoy solid sales in the weeks ahead.
The opening of A Civil Action brought some well-needed stability to Travolta's starpower. His last two starring efforts, Primary Colors ($39M) and Mad City ($10.6M), underperformed prompting many to wonder if his drawing power was fading. A Civil Action, which gave the actor his sixth number one opening of the decade, reaffirms his box office stature. The film's distributor, Buena Vista, which has had the number one movie for five of the last nine frames, placed four titles in the top ten over the weekend. Add in films from Disney subsidiary Miramax, and the Mouse empire claimed six of the top ten motion pictures at the box office.
For the second weekend in a row, winter storms put a dent into box office sales. This time it was Friday that was hammered as snowfall in the northeast led to slow sales at theaters in that region. However, Saturday saw dramatic increases as some theaters reported 300-600% surges in sales over Friday.
Robin Williams slipped to second after two weeks on top with Patch Adams which grossed $12.7M. Off just 33%, the medical school comedy has rocketed to $83.5M after 17 days of release and is set to cross $100M next week. Patch Adams should earn $125-135M by the end of its run giving Universal a sorely need blockbuster. Steady in third was You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, which saw $8.1M. Declining 43% from last weekend, the Warner Bros. holiday hit has climbed to $90.1M and should break nine digits next week. You've Got Mail should eventually reach $115-125M in domestic ticket sales.
Stepping down to fourth place was Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon in Stepmom which grossed $7.9M. Down 46%, the Sony estrogenfest has collected $62M and is headed for a final total of $90-100M. Cartoon royalty graced fifth place as The Prince of Egypt took in $6.1M to push its cume to $74.9M. Off 46%, the DreamWorks animated film should conclude its holy domestic run with $90-100M which is about even with the studio's previous toon Antz. Overseas, Prince has grossed over $70M to date and could break through $200M in worldwide grosses by the end of the month.
Mighty Joe Young grabbed onto sixth place with $5M. Down 38%, the $70M Disney film has amassed $34.8M and looks to end with about $50-55M. Overseas grosses and worldwide home video could allow this expensive ape pic to break even. Taking in an estimated $4.7M, A Bug's Life fell 47% as children returned to school after the holidays. The Disney/Pixar film's cume now stands at $143M which is 11% less than Toy Story's total of $160.8M after the same amount of days. A Bug's Life is on course for a final tally of around $160-165M making it one of the highest-grossing animated films in Disney's vault.
In eighth place was Miramax's costume comedy Shakespeare in Love which collected $4.2M. Increasing its screencount from 299 to 632, the Gwenyth Paltrow hit was up 33%, has earned a rosy $15M to date, and should easily double that amount in the weeks ahead as the Golden Globe awards are presented and Oscar nominations are announced. Shakespeare has secured six Globe nominations and is a favorite to score a number of Academy Award nominations as well. The tale of William Shakespeare dealing with showbiz dilemmas of his day has been expanding well and earned the second best per-theater average in the top ten.
In ninth was The Faculty with $4.1M which puts its 17-day total at $31.9M. The $23M film was originally promoted as a mix of science fiction and horror but after opening, Miramax launched new ads that sold it as an action-comedy. The new campaign seems to be working since The Faculty has generated solid midweek business and suffered a respectable decline over the weekend. It should finish its domestic run with $45-50M.
Buena Vista enjoyed a $3.1M weekend take for their action film Enemy of the State. The political thriller crossed the $100M on Saturday, its 51st day of release, and became the 13th film released in 1998 to hit the century mark. It also is the third consecutive blockbuster for Will Smith, the fourth straight for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the eighth of his long producing career. Look for Enemy of the State to target $110-120M.
Below the top ten, Fox's war epic The Thin Red Line expanded from 7 to 61 theaters and captured $1.3M for a sizzling $20,924 per site. With $2.5M thus far, the Terrence Malick picture opens nationwide on Friday. Fox Searchlight's Waking Ned Devine made its way into more cinemas and bagged $2M in 502 theaters for a $3,891 average.
In home video news, Titanic has become the biggest selling title of all time with a worldwide sales total of about 57 million units and climbing. Paramount Home Video states that over 25 million units have been bought in North America while Fox International Home Video reports that approximately 32 million units have been sold overseas. Previously, Disney's The Lion King held the all-time video sales record with nearly 56 million copies sold globally. Contrary to prior reports, a Paramount Home Video spokesperson on Monday stated that there is no definite release date scheduled for a DVD version of Titanic.
Now online, Box Office Guru's annual Studio Spotlight report which reviews the box office events of 1998 with stories on the performance of each studio. Compared to projections, A Civil Action opened better than my $13M forecast.
Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on The Thin Red Line, Varsity Blues, Virus, and other films opening or expanding on January 15th. In last week's survey, readers were asked what they thought was the most surprising box office event of 1998. Of 2,058 responses, 33% said the success of There's Something About Mary, 32% chose the performance of Rush Hour, 17% picked Adam Sandler's incredible popularity, 13% selected the underperformance of Godzilla, and 5% said the poor year for Universal.
Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on John Travolta's box office record. This Wednesday's new column focuses on the biggest openings in the month of January. For a review of A Civil Action visit Chief's Movie Review Page.
The top ten films grossed $71.1M which was down 13% from last year when Titanic remained at number one with $28.7M, and up 14% from 1997 when The Relic opened in first place with $9.1M.
Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when a group of new films hit theaters including Varsity Blues, Virus, and At First Sight.
Below are final studio figures for the weekend. Click on the title to jump to its official home page:
This column is updated three times each week : Thursday (upcoming weekend's summary), Sunday (post-weekend analysis with estimates), and Monday night (actuals). Source : EDI, Exhibitor Relations. Opinions expressed in this column are those solely of the author.
Written by Gitesh Pandya