Weekend Box Office (March 19 - 21, 1999)
THIS WEEKEND Four new films attacked theaters but only the romantic comedy Forces of Nature managed to excite moviegoers with its top spot debut. With the Academy Awards ceremony being held on a Sunday evening, theaters braced for slower sales as the weekend period came to an end. Oscar-winning pictures Shakespeare in Love, Saving Private Ryan, and Life is Beautiful all saw sales increases due to the added exposure of the annual awards. Overall, business remained sluggish as the top ten films collected only $55.2M making it the second worst top ten gross of the year.
Sandra Bullock was busy charming moviegoers over Oscar weekend as her new film Forces of Nature, which also stars Ben Affleck, opened atop the box office with $13.5M in ticket sales. Debuting in 2,058 theaters, the DreamWorks pic averaged a sturdy $6,565 per site. For Bullock, Forces of Nature marks her sixth number one opening since hitting it big five years ago driving that runaway bus. Her broad appeal coupled with the rising hunk status of Affleck were primary reasons why Forces of Nature was the top attraction at theaters this weekend. The opening figure was very much in line with Bullock's movies from last year. October's Practical Magic opened with $13.1M in 2,652 theaters while May's Hope Floats debuted with $14.2M in 2,367 locations.
According to DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp, Forces of Nature performed strongest with young women who really responded to the pairing of Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck. "About 65% of the opening weekend audience was female and the audience recommendation level was fantastic for women under 25" Tharp said.
After two weeks of being the boss, mob comedy Analyze This slipped to second place with $11.7M and continued to show box office stamina. Off just 25%, the Warner Brothers film, which stars Academy Award winner Robert De Niro and multiple-time Oscar host Billy Crystal, has scored an impressive $57.2M and has its eyes set on the $100M club. After 17 days of release, Analyze This is still running close to the pace of the 1996 comedy blockbuster The Birdcage which grossed $60.6M by its third weekend and $124M overall.
Another tough guy, Clint Eastwood, was shooting blanks as his latest release, True Crime, debuted in third with $5.3M. The story of a reporter who discovers a death row inmate to be innocent averaged just $2,849 in 1,852 prisons. True Crime's debut performance was nothing like the Oscar-winning actor/director's previous outing in front of the camera. 1997's political crime thriller Absolute Power launched with $16.8M on its way to a domestic take of $50.1M. However, Eastwood's last directorial effort, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil opened as poorly as True Crime with $5.2M in November 1997. With a relatively low level of advertising, True Crime did not register with movie fans this weekend and long term prospects are not likely to make this picture into a hit.
Sony's family comedy Baby Geniuses continued to surprise industry observers by rising one spot to fourth place with $4.3M. The film's low 23% decline from its debut frame allowed it to bag a good $11.8M in ten days as it clearly is connecting with parents and young children. Produced for about $12M, Baby Geniuses looks to reach a profitable $25-30M in domestic box office sales before reaching an even wider audience on home video. Sony stablemate Cruel Intentions fell 43% to $4M and claimed fifth place with a total gross of $29.9M to date.
The animated adaptation of the popular musical The King and I attracted little business over the weekend with a take of $4M. Warner Bros. opened the film, which is budgeted at around $24M, in 2,352 locations and managed a weak average of only $1,704 per site.
Tumbling 47%, The Rage: Carrie 2 grossed $3.7M in its sophomore frame and upped its cume to $12.6M. Look for the $21M MGM/UA horror flick to finish with about $18-20M. Fellow sophomore The Corruptor also saw a steep decline as the New Line action pic took in $3.1M for eighth place. Down 46%, the Chow Yun-Fat-Mark Wahlberg cop film is not exciting its target young male demographic and should shoot up a meager $14-16M by the end of its run.
Oscar weekend ticket buyers fell for Best Picture champion Shakespeare in Love giving the Miramax comedy another $3M. The Gwenyth Paltrow-starrer edged up 4% from last weekend as last minute movie fans rushed in to catch the acclaimed picture before its triumphant night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Shakespeare in Love, which has benefited from a massive publicity campaign from Miramax over the last several weeks, has grossed $73.2M thus far and will look for a second round of business now that it has collected seven Academy Awards.
Rounding out the top ten, The Deep End of the Ocean collected $2.6M in its second weekend as it dropped an alarming 54%. With a ten-day sum of just $10M, the $38M Michelle Pfeiffer drama should finish with roughly $14-16M.
Another set of films were knocked out of the top ten over the weekend. Wing Commander crashed in its sophomore frame falling 56% and raising its ten-day total to just $8.8M which should only reach around $12M in the end. Buena Vista's The Other Sister has grossed $23.5M and should conclude with about $28-30M. Universal's October Sky has flown to $23.6M and is likely to finish with an encouraging $28-30M. Finally, Nicolas Cage's $40M thriller 8MM continued its rapid fall collecting $34M thus far and should end with a disappointing $36-38M.
The weekend's other newcomer, Fox's thriller Ravenous, corpsed with just $1M in 1,040 theaters giving it a horrible per-theater average of one grand.
With all eyes on the Academy Awards this weekend, Oscar contenders pulled in strong sales from movie fans sampling the best that cinema has to offer. Aside from Shakespeare in Love rising 4%, some other Best Picture nominees also saw gains over last weekend. Italy's Life is Beautiful, still in just 647 locations, saw a 20% boost to $2.2M this weekend bringing its record-breaking domestic total to $36M. Nominated for seven Oscars, the Miramax release could use one or more trophies to anchor an expansion into more markets next weekend. Roberto Benigni's Holocaust-era picture scored the third-best per-theater average in the top twenty with $3,454.
Meanwhile, Saving Private Ryan, which brought home five Oscars, surged 24% with a weekend gross of $1.1M and saw its domestic war chest grow to $210.2M which includes over $19M since its rerelease five weeks ago. Worldwide totals for the Oscar darlings thus far include $465M for Saving Private Ryan, $130M for Shakespeare in Love, and $130M for Life is Beautiful.
Elsewhere at the box office a milestone was crossed by Paramount Pictures. The smash hit The Rugrats Movie has become the first non-Disney animated film to ever hit the $100M domestic mark.
The overall box office health has been suffering lately due to the abundance of poor and mediocre titles hitting theaters that are just not attracting large audiences. So far this year, an alarming 15 films have opened wide (800 or more theaters) with grosses less than $6M. Movies which lack broad appeal in the first place, are being cannibalized by all the product in the marketplace. Unfortunately, the films being released in the weeks ahead are looking to continue this disturbing trend.
Compared to projections, Forces of Nature opened very close to my forecast of $13M. True Crimes, The King and I, and Ravenous all debuted below my respective predictions of $8M, $7M, and $4M.
Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Analyze This. In last week's survey, readers were asked who they thought would win the Academy Award for Best Actor. Of 3,344 responses, 31% correctly voted for Roberto Benigni, 30% picked Edward Norton, 24% selected Tom Hanks, 9% chose Nick Nolte, and 6% said Ian McKellen.
Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on how past Best Picture winners have been affected at the box office by their Oscar trophies. This Wednesday's new column looks back at the year 1990. For reviews of Forces of Nature and some of this year's Oscar winners, visit Chief's Movie Review Page.
The top ten films grossed just $55.2M which was down 26% from last year when Titanic sailed away with $17.2M, and also down 26% from 1997 when the Liar, Liar opened at number one with a mammoth $31.4M.
Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Ed TV and The Mod Squad face off.
Below are final studio figures for the weekend. Click on the title to jump to its official home page:
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.
Written by Gitesh Pandya