Weekend Box Office (January 15 - 18, 1999)

*** Studio Spotlight 1998 - Year in Review ***

THIS WEEKEND Paramount Pictures scored a box office touchdown over the long weekend with its high school football film Varsity Blues which grossed $17.5M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday frame, according to final results. Starring James Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek) and Oscar-winner Jon Voight, Varsity Blues fought off numerous other freshmen films and rushed to a new record for movies debuting over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend beating the $14M earned by Legends of the Fall four years ago. The Paramount film's three-day gross of $14.8M is the third best January debut ever behind Star Wars - Special Edition and A Civil Action. Opening in 2,121 theaters, the Brian Robbins-directed picture averaged a meaty $8,258 over the four days.

Varsity Blues targeted and connected with teenagers and young adults benefiting from heavy promotion on MTV which also produced the movie under the MTV Films banner. With a surplus of teen horror pictures in the last few months, it seems that younger moviegoers are tired of seeing themselves get hacked to death and want more realistic stories that they can relate to, which is what Varsity Blues offered. Teen heartthrob Van Der Beek proved he could turn his television fans into ticket buyers and should see more film opportunities open up for him. Whether this teen idol follows the career path of John Travolta or David Cassidy is yet to be determined. But with a production cost of $15M, Paramount will break even after just one week of theatrical play and a video release when students go on summer vacation should bring strong home video sales making Varsity Blues a very profitable motion picture for the studio.

Patch Adams laughed up $12M over the Friday-to-Monday period bringing its cume to $98.7M. Dipping just 5% from last weekend's three-day gross, the Tom Shadyac comedy should cross the $100M mark by Friday. Patch Adams will give Robin Williams his seventh such domestic blockbuster of the decade joining Tom Hanks, who should also hit the lucky seven mark by Friday with You've Got Mail, as the only stars to achieve this feat.

Slipping to third place, A Civil Action grossed $11.8M over the four-day frame. Off 22% from last weekend's three-day figure, the John Travolta legal thriller has taken in $31.3M thus far and should finish its run with about $60-65M. A Civil Action is distributed domestically by Buena Vista and by Paramount overseas.

After three weeks of limited release, Terrence Malick's long-awaited feature The Thin Red Line ambushed theaters and grossed $11.4M over the long MLK weekend. Expanding into 1,528 locations nationwide, the World War II epic averaged a sturdy $7,436 per platoon capturing the second best average in the top twenty. The Thin Red Line appeared on many critics' ten best lists of 1998 and starred a wide assortment of popular actors including Sean Penn and Nick Nolte. The nearly three-hour length of the $53M film reduced the number of screenings per day in most cinemas, but moviegoers were still attracted to the much-talked-about film. With $14.4M in the barracks, The Thin Red Line will now need positive word-of-mouth to ensure a successful run.

Rounding out the top five was At First Sight, starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino, which saw $8.4M over the four-day period. Generating heat in 1,814 theaters, the MGM/UA release averaged a so-so $4,655 per site. The female-skewing romance performed best with adults over 25 and served as a decent alternative on Sunday to the NFL playoff games.

Holiday holdovers continued their sprint towards nine digits over the long MLK weekend. Stepmom grossed $7.8M, down 2%, pushing its cume to $72M. Youve Got Mail slipped 18% and grabbed $6.6M raising its sum to $98.9M. The Prince of Egypt earned $6.3M in ticket sales giving it $82.6M to date.

Other new releases over the weekend were met with cold receptions from moviegoers. Universal's expensive special-effects pic Virus, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, took in just $6M over the Friday-to-Monday period. Infecting 2,019 theaters, Virus averaged a poor $2,980 per location. In Dreams, a psychological thriller directed by Neil Jordan, opened outside of the top ten with only $4.6M. The DreamWorks film stars Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. and averaged a sleepy $2,751 in 1,670 sites over the four days. Both pictures were victims of a crowded marketplace as ticket buyers showed little interest in the subject matter or stars.

Miramax's Shakespeare in Love continues to charm the box office and is displaying fantastic legs. With $4.7M, the Gwenyth Paltrow period comedy has amassed $21.3M thus far and is being fueled by superb word-of-mouth. Still playing in less than 650 sites, Shakespeare may win a few Golden Globe statues next weekend further igniting its box office potential.

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, Varsity Blues and The Thin Red Line both opened better than my respective forecasts of $11M and $9M. At First Sight, Virus, and In Dreams all opened close to my respective predictions of $10M, $7M, and $5M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of this weekend's new films would open the strongest. Of 1,708 responses, 48% chose The Thin Red Line, 21% selected At First Sight, 17% said Virus, 9% predicted Varsity Blues, and 4% voted for In Dreams.

Be sure to read the NEW Weekly Rewind column which reports on the biggest openings in the month of January. For a review of Varsity Blues visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $92.6M over the four-day period which was up 2% from last year when Titanic was docked at number one with $30M, and up 27% from 1997 when Beverly Hills Ninja opened in first place with $12.2M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Sharon Stone's Gloria debuts.

Marketplace: Shop for movies, DVDs, music, and books at discounted prices using search engines

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

# Title Jan 15 - 18 Jan 8 - 10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Varsity Blues $ 17,515,723 2,121 1 $ 8,258 $ 17,515,723 Paramount
2 Patch Adams 12,049,345 12,686,600 -5.0 2,893 4 4,165 98,697,840 Universal
3 A Civil Action 11,761,043 15,163,484 -22.4 2,001 4 5,878 31,301,412 BV
4 The Thin Red Line 11,362,226 1,276,384 790.2 1,528 4 7,436 14,435,129 Fox
5 At First Sight 8,444,321 1,814 1 4,655 8,444,321 MGM/UA
6 Stepmom 7,780,255 7,905,257 -1.6 2,358 4 3,300 72,012,562 Sony
7 You've Got Mail 6,622,424 8,102,167 -18.3 2,554 5 2,593 98,905,738 Warner Bros.
8 The Prince of Egypt 6,289,465 6,074,356 3.5 2,215 5 2,839 82,611,846 DreamWorks
9 Virus 6,013,640 2,018 1 2,980 6,013,640 Universal
10 Shakespeare in Love 4,729,645 4,224,426 12.0 648 6 7,299 21,286,905 Miramax
11 In Dreams 4,593,872 1,670 1 2,751 4,593,872 DreamWorks
12 Mighty Joe Young 4,565,278 5,041,684 -9.4 2,087 4 2,187 40,358,246 BV
13 A Bug's Life 4,552,139 4,723,951 -3.6 1,815 9 2,508 148,506,807 BV
14 The Faculty 2,321,458 4,086,045 -43.2 2,103 4 1,104 35,273,508 Miramax
15 Waking Ned Devine 2,214,290 1,953,320 13.4 504 9 4,393 12,358,017 Fox Searchlight
16 Enemy of the State 2,025,063 3,112,469 -34.9 1,286 9 1,575 104,419,712 BV
17 Star Trek: Insurrection 1,572,346 2,960,225 -46.9 1,474 6 1,067 65,381,579 Paramount
18 The Rugrats Movie 1,330,827 1,437,993 -7.5 981 9 1,357 92,703,873 Paramount
19 Life is Beautiful 1,263,249 904,692 39.6 218 13 5,795 14,441,642 Miramax
20 The Waterboy 1,171,170 1,631,047 -28.2 738 11 1,587 153,842,764 BV
Top 5 $ 61,132,658 $ 49,932,564 22.4
Top 10 92,568,087 71,121,139 30.2
Top 20 118,177,779 84,458,799 39.9

    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.

Last Updated : January 19, 1999 at 11:00PM ESTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya