Weekend Box Office (February 19 - 21, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND Mel Gibson emerged victorious at the box office as his action thriller Payback edged out Kevin Costner's romance Message in a Bottle with a final weekend gross of $10,268,237. Meanwhile three new films debuted this weekend and saw opening grosses that ranged from mediocre to poor. Due to the weak performance from new films, holdovers generally enjoyed low declines. Overall, the box office was sluggish as for the first time in 17 months no film in the top twenty managed to average at least $4,000 per theater.

Moviegoers couldn't stop rooting for the bad guy as Mel Gibson reclaimed the number one spot with his action hit Payback which grossed $10.3M in its third weekend of release. Down 34% from last weekend, the Paramount thriller is holding up solidly at the box office and has bagged a terrific $57.1M in 17 days quickly making it 1999's highest grossing new release. That total also puts it 6.8% above the $53.5M that Gibson's Conspiracy Theory grossed in the same period of time in August 1997. At its current pace, and given the level of competition in the coming weeks, Mel Gibson could score a $90-95M bounty with Payback.

By powering back to the top, Payback became the first film since 1996's Jerry Maguire to debut at number one, fall below, and then reclaim the box office title. Between Payback and Varsity Blues, Paramount has had the top grossing movie for four of the last six weeks.

Settling for second place was the Kevin Costner-Robin Wright Penn romance Message in a Bottle with $10M in its sophomore frame - down $260,000 from original studio estimates. Slipping 40% from last weekend's Valentine's Day frame, the Warner Bros. pic has collected an impressive $32.1M in its first ten days. Also starring Paul Newman, Message in a Bottle could float to a final tally of about $60-65M.

Remaining in third with the family audience all to itself was Disney's My Favorite Martian with $6.9M. Off an encouraging 22% from its debut last weekend, the Jeff Daniels-Christopher Lloyd family film has beamed up $19.9M after orbiting theaters for ten days. Look for Martian to walk away with $45-50M overall.

Universal's inspiring drama October Sky debuted in fourth place with $5.9M. Blasting off in 1,495 launch pads, the rocket boys averaged a solid $3,950 per theater which was the best in the top ten. October Sky has generated spectacular reviews which could lead to a sustained run at the box office with relatively modest weekly depreciations as moviegoers begin discovering this title.

New Line's Blast From The Past also saw a promising second try as it grossed $5.8M - down only 25%. The Brendan Fraser-Alicia Silverstone comedy has taken in $16.5M in ten days and looks to conclude with $35-40M overall.

Shakespeare in Love used its Oscar clout to laugh up another $5.8M over the weekend. That put the Gwenyth Paltrow film just 26% below last weekend's gross and bumped its cume to a rosy $54.1M. By comparison, The English Patient, Miramax's indie darling that swept the Academy Awards two years ago, had grossed $51.5M at this same point during its run to Oscar glory. It went on to gross a total of $78.7M domestically. Shakespeare has four lucrative weeks ahead before it begins turning nominations into trophies and should surpass the domestic tally of Patient with ease.

Miramax moneymaker She's All That took seventh place with $5.3M in sales. Slipping 39%, the teen romantic comedy has danced off with $49.4M thus far.

Another new release, Office Space, followed in eighth place with a debut of just $4.2M. Directed by Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead Do America), the Fox comedy opened in 1,740 cubicles and averaged a mundane $2,432 per water cooler. Director Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill) and co-star Jennifer Aniston (Friends) have both found enormous success in the world of television but that was apparently not enough to persuade a large audience to check into Office Space.

Buena Vista's Rushmore held its own and took ninth with $2.8M as it added another 261 playdates. The Bill Murray title has gathered up $9.8M so far but still enjoyed one of the best per-theater averages in the top ten. Rounding out the top ten, Saving Private Ryan shot up $2.4M to boost its cume to $203.2M making it the top grossing domestic film released in 1998.

The two new releases managed to knock out a couple of hit films. Universal's Patch Adams enjoyed a fantastic eight-week run in the top ten, has grossed $129.4M to date, and should eventually reach about $135-140M. The $15M high school football pic Varsity Blues has tackled $50.2M to date and could finish the season with around $55M giving Paramount and MTV a lot of green.

Life is Beautiful, now the highest grossing foreign language film in American history, eased just slightly from last weekend fueled by its Oscar nominations and Miramax's aggressive marketing campaign. The subtitled Italian pic has collected an impressive $24.7M to date.

Teenagers may spend a ton of cash at the box office, but they won't go and see just any film slickly packaged and blatantly sold to their generation. Sony learned this lesson the hard way as their high school comedy Jawbreaker was crushed with a flavorless opening weekend tally of just $1.6M putting it beneath the top ten. Starring Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart, Jawbreaker brought its attitude to 801 locations and settled for a weak average of only $2,002. Despite the success of teen favorites Varsity Blues and She's All That, both of which have grossed about $50M in ticket sales, Jawbreaker simply did not interest its core audience of young adults who proved that they are not gullible enough to buy into just any teen flick.

Compared to projections, the freshmen releases all debuted less than expected. October Sky was just a notch below my forecast of $7M while Office Space came in a few million lower than my $8M prediction. Meanwhile, Jawbreaker was not the hit I anticipated and was nowhere near my projection of $9M. However, both Payback and Message in a Bottle were very close to my forecast of $11M for each film.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the box office power of Star Wars : The Phantom Menace. In last week's survey, readers were asked which was the most surprising Oscar snub. Of 1,378 responses, 31% picked Jim Carrey for Best Actor in The Truman Show, 23% said The Truman Show for Best Picture, 19% chose Bill Murray for Best Supporting Actor for Rushmore, 15% selected Pleasantville for Best Visual Effects, and 12% picked Shekhar Kapur for Best Director for Elizabeth.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which looks back at Kevin Costner's box office history. This Wednesday's new column reviews the top grossing films of the year thus far. For a review of Jawbreaker visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $59.5M which was down 14% from last year when Titanic dominated with $21M, and down 19% from 1997 when The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition debuted at number one with $22M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Nicolas Cage hopes to ignite the box office with 8MM.

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

# Title Feb 19 - 21 Feb 12 - 14 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Payback $ 10,268,237 $ 15,630,573 -34.3 2,768 3 $ 3,710 $ 57,147,629 Paramount
2 Message in a Bottle 10,042,342 16,751,560 -40.1 2,545 2 3,946 32,129,098 Warner Bros.
3 My Favorite Martian 6,911,596 8,828,586 -21.7 2,312 2 2,989 19,935,338 BV
4 October Sky 5,905,250 1,495 1 3,950 5,905,250 Universal
5 Blast From The Past 5,839,227 7,792,098 -25.1 2,544 2 2,295 16,509,086 New Line
6 Shakespeare in Love 5,827,713 7,882,506 -26.1 2,030 11 2,871 54,127,857 Miramax
7 She's All That 5,288,563 8,595,257 -38.5 2,639 4 2,004 49,391,514 Miramax
8 Office Space 4,231,727 1,740 1 2,432 4,231,727 Fox
9 Rushmore 2,804,576 3,203,241 -12.4 764 3 3,671 9,758,902 BV
10 Saving Private Ryan 2,417,157 3,360,087 -28.1 1,139 31 2,122 203,152,221 DreamWorks
11 Life is Beautiful 2,350,648 2,366,346 -0.7 685 18 3,432 24,666,327 Miramax
12 Patch Adams 1,742,395 3,129,670 -44.3 1,584 9 1,100 129,358,260 Universal
13 Jawbreaker 1,603,425 801 1 2,002 1,603,425 Sony
14 Varsity Blues 1,584,546 2,842,309 -44.3 1,647 6 962 50,231,371 Paramount
15 Affliction 1,111,636 177,405 526.6 323 8 3,442 2,115,023 Lions Gate
16 Elizabeth 1,098,569 907,903 21.0 624 16 1,761 24,033,506 Gramercy
17 The Thin Red Line 932,267 1,610,141 -42.1 905 9 1,030 34,370,394 Fox
18 The Rugrats Movie 801,649 896,229 -10.6 818 14 980 97,388,638 Paramount
19 Waking Ned Devine 787,254 1,094,180 -28.1 429 14 1,835 21,319,104 Fox Searchlight
20 A Civil Action 770,820 1,571,324 -50.9 890 9 866 55,150,049 BV
Top 5 $ 38,966,652 $ 57,688,482 -32.5
Top 10 59,536,388 78,015,887 -23.7
Top 20 72,319,597 90,740,163 -20.3

    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 22, 1999 at 10:45PM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya