Weekend Box Office (February 5 - 7, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND Mel Gibson kicked down the door and blasted his way to number one with his latest action thriller Payback which opened with $21.2M according to final studio figures. The Paramount release debuted wide in 2,720 theaters shooting up a mighty average of $7,802 per site. Payback posted the biggest opening of the year thus far and the second best February launch ever behind the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back which opened with $22M two years ago. In Payback, Gibson plays a thief who is double-crossed and seeks vengeance on those who stole his money. Helmed by writer-turned-director Brian Helgeland, Payback previously had a fall release date but was pushed back due to changes in the final cut.

Contributing to the enormous debut of Payback were the starpower of Mel Gibson, a heavy advertising campaign, and an otherwise lackluster marketplace. Moviegoers were looking for that next big film and they found it in Payback. For Gibson, it stands as the fourth largest opening of his career behind Ransom ($34.2M), Lethal Weapon 4 ($34M), and Lethal Weapon 3 ($33.2M). Five of the actor's last six pictures have opened at number one making Mel Gibson one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. That one exception was the Oscar-winning Braveheart which debuted in third place in May 1995 behind Casper and Die Hard With A Vengeance.

A Paramount spokesman reported that Payback performed extremely well across the board pulling in ticket buyers from all age, ethnic, gender, and geographic groups. The film's long term success will be tested over the weeks ahead as fans react to the high level of violence in the picture. Still, with the Presidents' Day holiday frame bolstering its sophomore weekend, Payback should find its way to a strong domestic gross and could follow a similar path as Gibson's Conspiracy Theory which opened with $19.3M and finished with $76.1M. Payback is set to open later this month in Australia, South Korea, and Belgium and heads into more European nations in March.

Slipping to second place was last week's valedictorian She's All That with $11.7M which pushes its ten-day cume to an impressive $30.7M. Assisting its sophomore frame was Miramax's addition of nearly 400 playdates giving the romantic comedy a slim 28% decline. By contrast, the film's average of $4,447 was down a more normal 39% from last weekend's debut average of $7,230. Nevertheless, She's All That has quickly become another profitable teen pic and should reach about $55-60M by the end of its run which far outdistances its reported production cost of $10M.

After six weeks in the top two positions, Patch Adams placed third with $4.4M which raises its total to $122.4M. Varsity Blues took fourth with $3.8M pushing its gross to $44.3M.

The Golden Globe-winning pictures for best comedy and drama followed. In fifth with $3.6M was the rerelease of Saving Private Ryan which stormed into 1,027 beaches. DreamWorks pulled the Steven Spielberg film from national release in November in order to bring it back during awards season. Averaging $3,515 this weekend, the Tom Hanks film pushed its overall gross up to $194.6M and could break through the $200M barricade next weekend on the strength of its expected Academy Award nominations. Saving Private Ryan now stands as the second highest-grossing film for the acclaimed actor trailing Forrest Gump.

Enjoying the smallest decline in the top ten, Shakespeare in Love romanced $3.5M. Off just 14%, the Gwenyth Paltrow starrer has amassed $36.2M to date. The road ahead looks rosy as Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday morning with Shakespeare expected to score a boatload of nods. Also, next weekend features the sizzling box office combo of Valentine's Day and the long Presidents' Day holiday which should bode well for the Miramax comedy.

John Travolta and partners landed in seventh with A Civil Action which grossed $3.1M giving the Buena Vista legal drama a $51.6M cume. Stepmom slipped to eighth as its $2.5M take pushed its sum to $87.2M.

Opening in ninth place with just $2.2M was the romantic comedy Simply Irresistible starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. The Fox title took over 1,359 kitchens scoring a weak average of $1,643 per theater. Gellar, the star of the hit television drama Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, could not translate her popularity with teens and young adults into box office strength. With two other hit films targeting the same audience, there simply was no room for a third offering on the menu.

Rounding out the top ten, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan forwarded another $2.2M into their inbox with You've Got Mail. The Warner Bros. comedy has downloaded $111.1M thus far.

Below the top ten, Buena Vista saw a monumental debut from Rushmore starring Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Opening in limited release in just 103 theaters, the comedy grossed $1.8M giving it a sizzling $17,881 average which more than doubled the average of the number one movie Payback. Rushmore's Friday gross accounted for only 29% of the full weekend estimate signaling a strong play throughout the weekend. Murray's expected Academy Award nomination for his supporting role will boost awareness for the hot film which should continue to shine as it expands in the weeks ahead.

Three films left the top ten over the weekend. The Thin Red Line has collected $30.4M and should finish its tour of duty with $35-40M. The Prince of Egypt has reached $93.4M and should be able to reach the $100M mark sometime in March. At First Sight is up to $20.7M and is set to conclude with around $25M.

Compared to projections, Payback opened very close to my $20M forecast. Saving Private Ryan's rerelease also came in very close to my $4M projection. However, Simply Irresistible came in below my prediction of $6M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Tom Hanks and Saving Private Ryan. In last week's survey, readers were asked if they thought Sharon Stone is still a major Hollywood sex symbol. Of 1,357 responses, 66% voted no while 34% said yes.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which looks back at the weekend of February 4 - 6, 1994. This Wednesday's new column reports on the top films from Warner Bros. this decade. For a review of Payback visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $58.2M which was down 14% from last year when Titanic lead the field with $23M, and down 11% from 1997 when the Star Wars Special Edition remained at number one with $24.3M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Message in a Bottle, My Favorite Martian, and Blast From The Past all debut over the holiday weekend.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, 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 Feb 5 - 7 Jan 29 - 31 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Payback $ 21,221,526 2,720 1 $ 7,802 $ 21,221,526 Paramount
2 She's All That 11,652,050 16,065,430 -27.5 2,620 2 4,447 30,696,541 Miramax
3 Patch Adams 4,407,335 6,001,680 -26.6 2,729 7 1,615 122,377,900 Universal
4 Varsity Blues 3,841,120 5,914,240 -35.1 2,364 4 1,625 44,261,528 Paramount
5 Saving Private Ryan 3,609,717 28,768 1,027 29 3,515 194,657,462 DreamWorks
6 Shakespeare in Love 3,463,943 4,037,917 -14.2 833 9 4,158 36,158,631 Miramax
7 A Civil Action 3,075,382 4,797,967 -35.9 2,031 7 1,514 51,632,380 BV
8 Stepmom 2,513,269 3,608,549 -30.4 2,358 7 1,066 87,193,623 Sony
9 Simply Irresistible 2,232,686 1,359 1 1,643 2,232,686 Fox
10 You've Got Mail 2,189,019 3,022,672 -27.6 2,016 8 1,086 111,118,817 Warner Bros.
11 The Prince of Egypt 1,921,629 2,625,153 -26.8 1,663 8 1,156 93,389,964 DreamWorks
12 The Thin Red Line 1,912,400 3,300,316 -42.1 1,646 7 1,162 30,426,042 Fox
13 Rushmore 1,841,793 103 1 17,881 1,923,244 BV
14 At First Sight 1,464,879 2,650,442 -44.7 1,787 4 820 20,665,440 MGM/UA
15 A Bug's Life 1,417,171 1,922,070 -26.3 1,286 12 1,102 155,959,885 BV
16 A Simple Plan 1,367,177 2,107,277 -35.1 673 9 2,031 12,121,149 Paramount
17 Waking Ned Devine 1,340,020 1,508,487 -11.2 540 12 2,482 18,590,457 Fox Searchlight
18 Mighty Joe Young 1,083,576 1,689,748 -35.9 1,247 7 869 46,938,617 BV
19 The Waterboy 1,070,721 580,736 84.4 823 14 1,301 156,658,429 BV
20 Life is Beautiful 837,586 926,243 -9.6 221 16 3,790 18,369,921 Miramax
Top 5 $ 44,731,748 $ 36,817,234 21.5
Top 10 58,206,047 52,024,366 11.9
Top 20 72,462,999 65,585,266 10.5

    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 : February 8, 1999 at 10:00PM ESTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya