Weekend Box Office (February 26 - 28, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND Nicolas Cage proved to be the star of choice as his latest thriller 8MM debuted at number one with a titillating $14.3M, more than doubling its closest competitor which was Mel Gibson's action hit Payback. Directed by Joel Schumacher, 8MM was projected in 2,370 locations for a sturdy $6,014 average per theater. For Cage, it marks his fifth number one opening in his last six attempts as 8MM launched a little lower than his two releases from last year - the romantic drama City of Angels which opened with $15.4M in April and the crime thriller Snake Eyes which debuted with $16.3M in August. 8MM saw an opening weekend audience that was on par with other recent star-driven creepy flicks like Kiss the Girls ($13.2M in October 1997), The Game ($14.3M in September 1997), and Seven ($13.9M in September 1995).

Sony was certainly happy with the performance of 8MM over the weekend especially since their other two films this year, Gloria and Jawbreaker, both corpsed at the box office. Jeff Blake, head of distribution at the studio, stated that audience sentiment has been good and that 8MM played well across geographic, gender, and age groups. While 8MM had almost no support from the nation's critics, it will be the recommendations of moviegoers that will decide if this disturbing thriller sinks or swims in the weeks ahead. Sony holds worldwide distribution rights for the $40M picture which opens across much of Europe in the weeks ahead. Nicolas Cage's last five films have collectively grossed over $1 billion at theaters around the world securing his position as a leading box office superman.

Taking a step back to second place once again was Paramount's Payback which earned $6.8M over the Friday-to-Sunday period boosting its cume to a fabulous $66.5M. The Mel Gibson title is the highest-grossing new release of 1999 and continues to display above average staying power.

Opening in third place was Buena Vista's The Other Sister starring Juliette Lewis, Giovanni Ribisi, and Diane Keaton with a promising $6.6M. Premiering in 1,343 theaters, the picture averaged a healthy $4,933 per site. Buena Vista distribution chief Phil Barlow stated that exit polls for Sister have been "as good as for any of our films in ages" and expects a long and healthy run at the box office. The Other Sister, which began generating positive word-of-mouth with last weekend's sneak previews, will expand to roughly 1,800 locations next weekend.

Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn were floating in fourth place with Message in a Bottle which grossed $6.4M in its third weekend. Off 36%, the Warner Bros. romance has docked with $41.3M in 17 days. Rounding out the top five, My Favorite Martian took in $5M bringing its total thus far to $25.9M. Its low decline of 28% indicated that the updated version of the 1960's television series continues to benefit from a lack of family film competition.

October Sky collected $4.8M pushing its ten-day sum to $12M. Universal added over 200 theaters to the film's run which helped it achieve the smallest depreciation in the top ten - just 19%. With its fabulous hold, October Sky should enjoy a solid run and could eventually finish with $30-35M.

Surging Oscar contender Shakespeare in Love plucked another $4.4M to boost its cume to $60.1M. Off only 25% the Miramax film is now the seventh highest-grossing film in the distributor's history. By comparison, The English Patient, Miramax's Academy Award champ from two years ago, had grossed $54.7M at this same point during its road to Oscar glory. It went on to bring in a total of $78.7M domestically.

She's All That remained popular with $3.6M placing it in eighth while New Line's Blast From The Past grossed $3.5M for ninth place. She's All That has quickly become one of Miramax's all-time top ten grossers with $54M and counting.

Moviegoers heeded the No Smoking signs in theaters and gave little business to Paramount's new comedy 200 Cigarettes which puffed up just $3.2M. Lighting up in 976 spots, the film about New Year's Eve partygoers in 1981 averaged $3,324 per theater which was good enough to be the third best average in the top ten, but still does not bode well for the pic's future. Produced under the MTV Films banner at Paramount, 200 Cigarettes performed more like the company's Dead Man on Campus ($4.7M debut) than its more successful Varsity Blues which opened with $15.2M and has amassed an impressive $51.3M to date.

Three movies dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox's Office Space was downsized 41% to $2.5M in its second restructuring. With only $7.9M in ten days, look for the Mike Judge comedy to finish with a disappointing total of $13-15M. Rushmore has captured $12.5M and has no Oscar momentum to cling to so it could conclude with around $18-20M.

Saving Private Ryan has gathered $205.6M to date and has its battleplans set for the evening of March 21st when the Steven Spielberg war epic hopes to infiltrate Hollywood and capture numerous Academy Awards statues. Meanwhile, fellow Best Picture nominee Life is Beautiful continued to touch movie lovers across North America and has upped its domestic gross to $27.3M.

In limited release, MGM/UA unleashed the Andy Garcia-Andie MacDowell film Just the Ticket in 82 locations and grossed $247,585 giving it a moderate $3,019 per theater. Fox Searchlight's 20 Dates went out in three engagements averaging a terrific $13,415 per theater.

Compared to projections, 8MM opened close to my forecast of $13M. Freshmen pics The Other Sister and 200 Cigarettes also debuted very near to my respective predictions of $6M and $4M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on next weekend's intriguing battle between Analyze This and Cruel Intentions. In last week's survey, readers were asked how big they thought Star Wars : The Phantom Menace would open this May. Of 2,031 responses, 38% thought it would be over $100M, 18% selected $90-100M, 18% said $80-90M, 17% picked $70-80M, and 10% chose under $70M.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reviews the top grossing films of 1999 thus far. This Wednesday's new column will look at the top March openings of the decade. For a review of 8MM visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $58.6M which was down 2% from last year when Titanic sailed away with $19.6M, and down 8% from 1997 when The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition remained at number one with $13.1M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when both Analyze This and Cruel Intentions debut.

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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 26 - 28 Feb 19 - 21 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 8MM $ 14,252,888 2,370 1 $ 6,014 $ 14,252,888 Sony
2 Payback 6,788,367 10,268,237 -33.9 2,852 4 2,380 66,453,543 Paramount
3 The Other Sister 6,624,445 1,343 1 4,933 6,624,445 BV
4 Message in a Bottle 6,412,737 10,042,342 -36.1 2,545 3 2,520 41,316,451 Warner Bros.
5 My Favorite Martian 4,973,960 6,911,596 -28.0 2,349 3 2,117 25,882,487 BV
6 October Sky 4,808,150 5,905,250 -18.6 1,702 2 2,825 12,014,060 Universal
7 Shakespeare in Love 4,372,632 5,827,713 -25.0 1,920 12 2,277 60,143,613 Miramax
8 She's All That 3,608,973 5,288,563 -31.8 2,301 5 1,568 53,993,505 Miramax
9 Blast From The Past 3,503,125 5,839,227 -40.0 2,516 3 1,392 20,968,703 New Line
10 200 Cigarettes 3,244,277 976 1 3,324 3,244,277 Paramount
11 Office Space 2,494,756 4,231,727 -41.0 1,740 2 1,434 7,945,357 Fox
12 Rushmore 1,974,063 2,804,576 -29.6 790 4 2,499 12,477,433 BV
13 Life is Beautiful 1,915,628 2,350,648 -18.5 681 19 2,813 27,335,876 Miramax
14 Saving Private Ryan 1,635,318 2,417,157 -32.3 1,008 32 1,622 205,565,595 DreamWorks
15 Patch Adams 873,260 1,742,395 -49.9 929 10 940 130,674,665 Universal
16 Elizabeth 787,961 1,098,569 -28.3 571 17 1,380 25,196,377 Gramercy
17 Varsity Blues 740,072 1,584,546 -53.3 1,184 7 625 51,275,680 Paramount
18 Jawbreaker 705,225 1,603,425 -56.0 801 2 880 2,707,382 Sony
19 Affliction 704,855 1,111,636 -36.6 335 9 2,104 3,160,729 Lions Gate
20 The Rugrats Movie 704,009 801,649 -12.2 708 15 994 98,286,747 Paramount
Top 5 $ 39,052,397 $ 38,966,652 0.2
Top 10 58,589,554 59,536,388 -1.6
Top 20 71,124,701 72,319,597 -1.7

    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 : March 1, 1999 at 10:15PM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya