Weekend Box Office (March 17 - 19, 2000)

THIS WEEKEND Using her undeniable charm, Julia Roberts attracted millions of moviegoers to her latest film Erin Brockovich which opened with a stunning $28.1M, according to final studio figures, establishing many box office benchmarks in the process. Universal launched the legal drama ultrawide in 2,848 theaters and scored a sizzling $9,880 average. The $52M film finds Roberts playing a struggling single mother who takes on a power company that has contaminated a town's water supply leading to severe health problems for local residents. Based on a true story, Brockovich also stars Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart.

Much has been written about the $20 million paycheck that Roberts earned for this role and by the opening weekend turnout, it looks as if each penny was well spent. Erin Brockovich delivered the second biggest opening in March (behind Liar, Liar's $31.4M in 1997) and the fourth best debut ever in the January-to-April corridor. The film also ranks as the second largest Julia Roberts launch after Runaway Bride's $35.1M and continues her three-year box office winning streak. Hollywood's highest-paid actress has amassed a combined $562M in domestic ticket sales for her last five movies and a staggering $1.27 billion when counting worldwide receipts. Columbia Pictures will handle the film overseas and begin its international rollout next month in Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, and other European nations.

Of course, Julia Roberts cannot claim all the credit for the success of Erin Brockovich. Universal did an excellent job marketing the film and the studio's sneak previews the previous weekend were crucial in generating strong word-of-mouth leading up to the national launch. Director Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight) put together a well-crafted and enjoyable picture that is pleasing audiences from coast to coast. In fact, the film's impressive 58% Friday-to-Saturday increase indicates a solid run ahead which could include low weekly declines.

Despite the R-rating, Erin Brockovich reached a wide audience that went beyond its core adult female demographic. Warm reviews, strong buzz, and relatively mild competition should allow the popular title to bust through the $100M barrier in the weeks ahead making the uplifting picture the biggest blockbuster of the spring season - something a much younger Julia did exactly a decade ago with Pretty Woman. (For more on the box office history of Julia Roberts, read the Weekly Rewind column).

Last weekend, Mission to Mars had the right stuff with a strong number one opening but sales came crashing down in its sophomore frame as the sci-fi drama tumbled 50% to $11.4M. The Brian De Palma picture, which stars Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, and Tim Robbins as astronauts in the year 2020 venturing to the Red Planet, has collected $40.6M in ten days of release. Weak reviews and unfavorable buzz took their toll on the Buena Vista release which is performing much like another interplanetary effects-filled movie - Starship Troopers. That 1997 sci-fi actioner also opened with $22-23M, got chopped in half in its second weekend, and reached a similar $39.2M in its first ten days. Troopers went on to gross $54.7M domestically. If Mission to Mars continues on its current trajectory, a $60M final could be in the works.

Scaring up a solid third place debut was the teen thriller Final Destination which took in $10M. The New Line release features a new take on slasher films with Death (not played by Brad Pitt this time) hunting down high school students who were meant to die on an ill-fated plane. Haunting 2,587 theaters, Final Destination averaged a respectable $3,872 per site. New Line reported that the audience was mostly in the 17-30 age group and 56% male. A cast of young, not-so-well-known actors helped keep the pricetag in the low $20M range.

The sleeper hit My Dog Skip once again was sturdy at the box office easing just 13% in its third weekend of national release to $5.3M. With a cume now up to $21.6M, the $7M Warner Bros. family film is using strong word-of-mouth to bark up a hefty gross that could double its current amount.

Johnny Depp's supernatural thriller The Ninth Gate was crucified in its second weekend crumbling 47% to $3.5M. Directed by Roman Polanski, the Artisan release has captured just $12.5M in ten days and is likely to finish with $17-19M.

Former number one The Whole Nine Yards dropped 41% to $3.3M giving the Warner Bros. comedy $51.1M to date. The $25M Bruce Willis-Matthew Perry mob story should conclude with about $60M.

In its final weekend before its date with Oscar, American Beauty grossed $3.2M allowing it to cross the $100M domestic mark on Friday, more than six months after its September 15th release date. The DreamWorks picture cost only $15M to produce and has taken in over $225M from audiences around the world. American Beauty has already swept top honors from the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild of America, the Golden Globes, and The National Board of Review. Off only 14% from last weekend, the Kevin Spacey-Annette Bening film has added $28M to its coffers since its post-nomination rerelease. American Beauty also became the twentieth motion picture released in 1999 to cross the century mark.

Armed with its seven Academy Award nominations, The Cider House Rules took in $2.5M to place eighth. The Miramax entry has lost some of the momentum it gained after securing its Oscar nods and has thus far grossed $45.8M which is twice the amount it had earned by the time nominations were announced a month ago. Unless Cider House can score some major statues next Sunday, the abortion-themed pic is likely to find its way to a domestic final of about $55M.

Snow Day thawed out in its sixth weekend of release melting 31% to $2.2M giving the hit film $56.4M to date. The Paramount/Nickelodeon project was produced for just $13M but should reach $60-65M in domestic ticket sales and continue its success on home video.

Fellow kidpic The Tigger Movie rounded out the top ten with $1.8M, off 28%, giving the Disney toon a solid $41.6M overall. Originally planned as a direct-to-video movie, Tigger has managed a successful theatrical run that seems set to reach $47-50M.

Lions Gate opened its pro wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat in major markets across the country and grossed $966,016. Stepping into 298 squared circles, the behind-the-scenes story on the lives of many top wrestlers averaged a moderate $3,242. The distributor plans to keep the screen total at the same level in the coming weeks but will move prints around into new markets.

Three films tumbled out of the top ten over the weekend. Destination's comedy Drowning Mona fell 49% to $1.7M in its third frame. The $8M Danny DeVito starrer has grossed $13.6M to date and should close with $16-18M.

Madonna has not been a lucky star at the box office this spring as her latest acting effort, The Next Best Thing, crumbled 51% in its third weekend to $1.7M. With just $13.4M in the bank, the Paramount film is shaping up as one of the season's biggest disappointments with a final tally that should reach $16-18M.

The sci-fi thriller Pitch Black lifted its cume to a respectable gross of $36.5M. The $25M USA Films release looks set to finish off with around $40M.

Compared to projections, Erin Brockovich surged ahead of my $19M forecast while Final Destination also performed better than expected coming in above my $7M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which film will win the Oscar for Best Picture. In last week's survey, readers were asked who would win the Academy Award for Best Actor. Of 1,339 responses, 43% picked Denzel Washington, 42% selected Kevin Spacey, 8% said Sean Penn, 5% chose Russell Crowe, and 2% picked Richard Farnsworth

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reviews 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 $71.2M which was up 29% from last year when Forces of Nature opened on top with $13.5M, but down 5% from 1998 when Titanic grossed $17.2M in its fourteenth weekend at number one.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Romeo Must Die, Here on Earth, and Whatever it Takes all push and shove their way into theaters.

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# Title Mar. 17 - 19 Mar. 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Erin Brockovich $ 28,138,465 2,848 1 $ 9,880 $ 28,138,465 Universal
2 Mission to Mars 11,385,709 22,855,247 -50.2 3,060 2 3,721 40,612,440 Buena Vista
3 Final Destination 10,015,822 2,587 1 3,872 10,015,822 New Line
4 My Dog Skip 5,268,241 6,027,373 -12.6 2,331 10 2,260 21,575,816 Warner Bros.
5 The Ninth Gate 3,531,618 6,622,518 -46.7 1,657 2 2,131 12,534,261 Artisan
6 The Whole Nine Yards 3,274,453 5,511,717 -40.6 2,503 5 1,308 51,071,108 Warner Bros.
7 American Beauty 3,159,322 3,664,215 -13.8 1,661 27 1,902 103,007,991 DreamWorks
8 The Cider House Rules 2,477,000 3,502,676 -29.3 1,738 15 1,425 45,778,857 Miramax
9 Snow Day 2,205,015 3,186,143 -30.8 2,387 6 924 56,398,194 Paramount
10 The Tigger Movie 1,771,853 2,463,705 -28.1 1,701 6 1,042 41,597,384 Buena Vista
11 Drowning Mona 1,727,680 3,417,003 -49.4 1,704 3 1,014 13,579,577 Destination
12 The Next Best Thing 1,652,564 3,360,692 -50.8 2,035 3 812 13,376,438 Paramount
13 Fantasia 2000 1,553,037 1,462,596 6.2 54 12 28,760 33,690,679 Buena Vista
14 Pitch Black 1,446,415 2,942,270 -50.8 1,384 5 1,045 36,480,488 USA Films
15 Reindeer Games 1,302,967 2,856,753 -54.4 1,701 4 766 21,802,812 Miramax
16 The Sixth Sense 1,280,780 967,778 32.3 878 33 1,459 288,477,004 Buena Vista
17 Wonder Boys 1,186,526 2,612,849 -54.6 1,458 4 814 16,930,982 Paramount
18 3 Strikes 989,630 1,864,844 -46.9 678 3 1,460 8,748,772 MGM/UA
19 Beyond the Mat 966,016 298 1 3,242 1,003,143 Lions Gate
20 Scream 3 894,540 1,540,805 -41.9 1,316 7 680 85,925,084 Miramax
Top 5 $ 58,339,855 $ 44,681,070 30.6
Top 10 71,227,498 61,089,854 16.6
Top 20 84,227,653 78,999,166 6.6

Last Updated : March 20 at 10:00PM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya