Weekend Box Office (March 10 - 12, 2000)

THIS WEEKEND Rocketing into the number one spot over the weekend was the futuristic space drama Mission to Mars which grossed $22.9M in its opening frame according to final studio figures. Directed by Brian De Palma, the Buena Vista release launched ultrawide in 3,054 theaters and averaged a stellar $7,484 per orbit. Mission to Mars, which stars Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, and Don Cheadle, is a science fiction story about a group of astronauts sent to the Red Planet on a rescue mission to search for surviving members of the first crew to land on the fourth rock from the sun. With its strong performance, Mission to Mars registered the third biggest March opening ever, behind Liar, Liar's $31.4M in 1997 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' $25.4M from 1990, and the second widest March debut after The Man in the Iron Mask which launched in 3,101 theaters two years ago.

Buena Vista was very pleased with their first number one opening of the year even if critics were not so supportive. The studio indicated that 57% of the audience was male (normal for a sci-fi pic) and that 53% were between the ages of 18 and 35. But only 63% of moviegoers surveyed said that the PG-rated film was "excellent" or "very good". Mission to Mars did, however, reach the marketplace well ahead of the competing Mars pic Red Planet from Warner Bros. That movie, once slated for the summer, has been delayed to November and stars Val Kilmer and The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss.

Johnny Depp's latest film, The Ninth Gate from director Roman Polanski, debuted at number two with $6.6M. The satanic thriller finds Depp as a tracker of rare books in search of ancient texts that could unleash demonic powers. Spreading evil in 1,586 theaters, The Ninth Gate averaged a decent $4,176 per site. Debut grosses for Johnny Depp's last three pictures include $30.1M for the holiday hit Sleepy Hollow, $4M for The Astronaut's Wife, and $4.3M for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The Warner Bros. family film My Dog Skip enjoyed a terrific sophomore frame climbing 3% from its national debut last weekend to gross $6M without adding any more theaters. Positive word-of-mouth is helping the $7M film reach a bigger audience as its cume rose to a sturdy $14.1M.

After spending three weeks on top of a generally weak box office, the Warner Bros. comedy The Whole Nine Yards dropped down to fourth place with $5.5M. Easing 23%, the Bruce Willis-Matthew Perry pic continues to show good legs and has looted a solid $45.9M to date.

Academy Award front-runner American Beauty added an additional 183 screens to its run and grossed $3.7M (off only 9%) to push its domestic cume to $98M. Awards kept pouring in for the DreamWorks hit which took home the Best Director accolade from the Directors Guild of America on Saturday and Best Actor, Actress, and Ensemble Cast honors from the Screen Actors Guild on Sunday to cement its status as the one to beat come Oscar night. The Sam Mendes-directed film has also won trophies from the Writers Guild, the Producers Guild, and the Golden Globes. Worldwide, American Beauty has now sprinted past the $200M mark and could keep the momentum going throughout the spring season if it secures some Academy Award statues.

The Cider House Rules, nominated for seven Oscars, also added screens this weekend with 208 extra playdates allowing the Miramax film to gross $3.5M. Down just 13%, the Tobey Maguire starrer has collected $42M to date, nearly half of which was earned after the Academy Award nominations were announced on February 15th.

In its sophomore weekend, the Danny DeVito comedy Drowning Mona dropped 41% to $3.4M. The $8M entry has taken in $10.7M to date and should reach $17-19M before finding a larger audience on video. Madonna's new effort The Next Best Thing fell 43% in its second outing to $3.4M putting its ten-day cume at $10.6M. The Paramount film, which was backed by a pricey marketing push, seems likely to conclude its run with a disappointing $16-18M.

The season's surprise hit, Snow Day, grossed $3.2M in its fifth frame and brought its robust total to $53M. The outer space thriller Pitch Black was hurt by sci-fi fans journeying to Mars this weekend dropping 42% to $2.9M giving it $34.1M thus far.

Two box office underachievers fell out of the top ten over the weekend. Miramax's Reindeer Games, starring Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron, grossed $2.9M giving it $19.4M overall. The $40M action pic was down 40% and should end up with about $25M. Reindeer Games is just the latest in a string of pictures anchored by young Hollywood hunks that have underperformed at domestic cinemas following Leonardo DiCaprio's The Beach, Freddie Prinze Jr.'s Down to You, and Brad Pitt's Fight Club.

Paramount grabbed $2.6M for its Michael Douglas film Wonder Boys giving it $15M after 17 days of wide release. Off 36%, the Curtis Hanson film has not been able to capitalize that much from strong reviews and is likely to reach $21-23M.

Audiences gave a warm reception to the Julia Roberts starrer Erin Brockovich which had sneak previews in selected cities on Saturday night. Universal reported that a staggering 98% of those polled rated the film in the top two boxes and that screenings played at 93% capacity. Erin Brockovich opens nationally on Friday.

Compared to projections, Mission to Mars landed extremely close to my $24M forecast while The Ninth Gate was a bit above my $5M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on who you think will win the Academy Award for Best Actor. In last week's survey, readers were asked which presidential candidate would support the motion picture industry the most. Of 1,306 responses, 49% chose Al Gore, 20% picked John McCain, 16% said Bill Bradley, and 15% voted for George W. Bush.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the box office boost that the major Oscar nominees have enjoyed this year. This Wednesday's new column will look back at the box office track record of Julia Roberts. For a review of Mission to Mars visit The Chief Report.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $61.1M which was down 2% from last year when Analyze This remained on top with $15.6M, and down 13% from 1998 when Titanic grossed $17.6M in its thirteenth weekend at number one.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Julia Roberts takes on Corporate America in Erin Brockovich.

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

# Title Mar. 10 - 12 Mar. 3 - 5 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Mission to Mars $ 22,855,247 3,054 1 $ 7,484 $ 22,855,247 Buena Vista
2 The Ninth Gate 6,622,518 1,586 1 4,176 6,622,518 Artisan
3 My Dog Skip 6,027,373 5,863,545 2.8 2,331 9 2,586 14,095,460 Warner Bros.
4 The Whole Nine Yards 5,511,717 7,174,183 -23.2 2,672 4 2,063 45,910,952 Warner Bros.
5 American Beauty 3,664,215 4,030,713 -9.1 1,522 26 2,408 98,029,002 DreamWorks
6 The Cider House Rules 3,502,676 4,018,764 -12.8 1,704 14 2,056 41,961,085 Miramax
7 Drowning Mona 3,417,003 5,802,229 -41.1 1,981 2 1,725 10,723,134 Destination
8 The Next Best Thing 3,360,692 5,870,387 -42.8 2,034 2 1,652 10,602,298 Paramount
9 Snow Day 3,186,143 4,804,112 -33.7 2,672 5 1,192 52,994,906 Paramount
10 Pitch Black 2,942,270 5,066,884 -41.9 1,730 4 1,701 34,086,236 USA Films
11 Reindeer Games 2,856,753 4,757,095 -39.9 2,113 3 1,352 19,406,775 Miramax
12 Wonder Boys 2,612,849 4,053,266 -35.5 1,509 3 1,732 14,967,348 Paramount
13 The Tigger Movie 2,463,705 3,618,729 -31.9 2,093 5 1,177 38,794,736 Buena Vista
14 3 Strikes 1,864,844 3,684,704 -49.4 678 2 2,751 7,256,106 MGM/UA
15 Hanging Up 1,702,684 3,705,778 -54.1 1,977 4 861 34,148,257 Sony
16 Scream 3 1,540,805 2,864,360 -46.2 1,447 6 1,065 84,454,225 Miramax
17 What Planet Are You From? 1,463,678 3,008,746 -51.4 2,248 2 651 5,370,289 Sony
18 Fantasia 2000 1,462,596 1,454,519 0.6 54 11 27,085 31,131,818 Buena Vista
19 Boiler Room 973,620 1,773,739 -45.1 607 4 1,604 15,294,086 New Line
20 The Sixth Sense 967,778 1,193,004 -18.9 672 32 1,440 286,827,314 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 44,681,070 $ 29,777,228 50.1
Top 10 61,089,854 51,441,178 18.8
Top 20 78,999,166 75,450,356 4.7

Last Updated : March 13 at 9:30PM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya