Weekend Box Office (March 27 - 29, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND With 11 Oscars on board, Titanic sailed to victory again and spent its fifteenth consecutive weekend at number one at the box office. But it was not an easy victory as the 20th anniversary rerelease of Grease gave the doomed ship a run for its money. Paramount, which distributes both films, released final figures on Monday that put Titanic at $15.2M while the 1978 musical grossed $12.7M. Also, on Thursday March 26, in its 98th day of release, Titanic crossed the $500M mark in domestic ticket sales and now stands at $515.3M as of Sunday night.

Its Academy Award sweep on Monday night seemed to have little or no discernible effect on ticket sales as the film was down 11% from last weekend. Titanic has been edging just 2% or so these last couple of weekends so this latest dropoff was definitely heavier and it was the steepest decline for the Oscar winner in five weeks. Still, the global behemoth continues to romance moviegoers and will hit $600M in about a month.

However, Grease was the box office champion on Friday as it outperformed Titanic by 47%. But strong Saturday business brought the James Cameron film back as it was up 73% from Friday while Grease did not keep up and dropped 32% from Friday. It seemed that fans of the John Travolta-Olivia Newton John musical rushed out on opening day leaving a much smaller audience left for the rest of the weekend. Friday's sales accounted for an extraordinarily high 48% of Grease's weekend tally but only 27% of Titanic's indicating much more consistent business over the three-day period. Titanic's heart will go on as it aims to tie E.T. next weekend with sixteen total weekends at number one. Standing in its way, though, will be the openings of Universal's Bruce Willis thriller Mercury Rising and New Line's Lost in Space which has an excellent chance at debuting at number one.

Playing in 2,064 locations, the remastered version of Grease had the highest per-theater average of all films in the top ten with $6,156 per site. The young John Travolta's opening draw of $12.7M edged out the present day Travolta who led Primary Colors to a $12M debut last weekend. Paramount should be able to see some healthy profits from this rerelease since it does not cost as much to bring back an older title to theaters. Overall, the rerelease of Grease could add another $40M to its lifetime gross which already was at $153M before this weekend.

With Titanic and Grease leading the box office field, Paramount Pictures claimed the top two spots over the weekend. The proud parent was the first distributor to take the top two spots in over a year when, strangely enough, rereleases were also involved. 20th Century Fox ruled the charts during the weekend of February 21, 1997 when its Special Editions of The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars were the most popular films at the domestic box office.

Call it deja vu, but John Travolta and Leonardo DiCaprio also starred in the number three and four films. With a $7M take, Universal's Primary Colors took third place as it was off a hefty 42% from its debut weekend pushing its cume to $22.2M after ten days. The political satire is not showing the strength necessary to become a big hit and is on its way to a final gross of about $40M. This hardly justifies Travolta's $20M salary. DiCaprio's The Man in the Iron Mask, in fourth place, was down 43% and grossed $6.3M. Its 17-day total is now up to $43.7M. Rounding out the top five was Wild Things with $5.7M, down 41%, which brought its ten-day tally to $18.2M.

Oscar winners As Good As It Gets and Good Will Hunting used their pair of Awards, as well as new ad campaigns, to boost their ticket sales over the weekend. With Best Actor and Best Actress trophies for Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets surged 32% to earn $4.3M over the weekend. This brings its total thus far to $131.8M since its Christmas release and within two weeks it will become Nicholson's highest-grossing film of the decade passing 1992's A Few Good Men which brought home $141.4M. Good Will Hunting, which nabbed Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Robin Williams) and Best Original Screenplay, was up 2% from last weekend and grossed $4.1M. Hunting's cume now stands at $121.6M and is the highest-grossing film in Miramax history. L.A. Confidential, also a winner of two Oscars, was down 1% from last weekend. Check out the complete list of Oscar winners.

Other new releases over the final weekend of March included The Newton Boys and Ride. The Newton Boys, an action-western starring Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke, shot blanks and managed a very disappointing $4M debut. Considering that it was a film with promising young stars, it was virtually ignored by its target audience of young ticket buyers who opted for the older films Titanic and Grease instead. However, the low-budget comedy Ride, from Miramax/Dimension, had a solid debut as it grossed $2.5M in only 496 theaters giving it a strong $5,067 average - that's 8% better than Titanic's average. Disney's Meet the Deedles was an instant flop as it grossed just $2M for a weak average of $1,138 per site. Considering there was little competition in the kids market, this was an awful performance for a Disney movie.

Dropping out of the top ten were The Wedding Singer, now at $71.2M after its seventh weekend, and The Big Lebowski which stands at just $15.2M after its fourth weekend. For reviews of recent films, visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

In limited release, No Looking Back, directed by Ed Burns and starring Lauren Holly, picked up $44,003 in seven theaters for a $6,286 average. A Price Above Rubies, starring Renee Zellweger, averaged $9,016 per site in four locations. Polygram's The Proposition starring Kenneth Branagh grossed $61,560 in seventeen theaters for a not-so-enticing $3,621 average per site. Last week's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Character from the Netherlands, launched in six theaters and collected $37,268 for a promising $6,211 average.

Compared to my projections, Grease exceeded the $9M forecast I expected. The Newton Boys did not corral as many moviegoers as I had thought and only made half the $8M that I predicted.

Overall, the top ten films grossed $66.1M which was down 6% from last year when The Devil's Own opened with $14.3M, and up 44% from 1996 when Sgt. Bilko debuted with $8.1M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Lost in Space and Mercury Rising invade theaters everywhere and try to knock off Titanic.

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

# Title Mar 27 - 29 Mar 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Titanic $ 15,213,500 $ 17,165,239 -11.4 3,233 15 $ 4,706 $ 515,262,530 Paramount
2 Grease - (rerelease) 12,705,463 2,064 1 6,156 12,705,463 Paramount
3 Primary Colors 7,005,780 12,045,395 -41.8 1,968 2 3,560 22,244,315 Universal
4 The Man in the Iron Mask 6,334,914 11,077,005 -42.8 3,101 3 2,043 43,653,200 MGM/UA
5 Wild Things 5,668,105 9,622,444 -41.1 2,177 2 2,604 18,212,599 Sony
6 As Good As It Gets 4,302,498 3,260,123 32.0 1,564 14 2,751 131,786,180 Sony
7 Good Will Hunting 4,117,121 4,026,752 2.2 1,642 17 2,507 121,566,085 Miramax
8 U.S. Marshals 4,116,646 7,225,511 -43.0 2,436 4 1,690 49,513,730 WB
9 The Newton Boys 4,010,245 1,965 1 2,041 4,010,245 Fox
10 Mr. Nice Guy 2,585,530 5,250,704 -50.8 1,463 2 1,767 9,303,966 New Line
11 Ride 2,513,334 496 1 5,067 2,513,334 Miramax
12 Meet the Deedles 2,006,751 1,763 1 1,138 2,006,751 BV
13 The Wedding Singer 1,821,287 3,254,479 -44.0 1,686 7 1,080 71,164,169 New Line
14 L.A. Confidential 1,477,015 1,496,331 -1.3 680 28 2,172 59,657,107 WB
15 The Big Lebowski 833,871 1,830,628 -54.4 643 4 1,297 15,213,448 Gramercy
16 The Apostle 822,509 1,169,836 -29.7 611 15 1,346 17,853,785 October
17 Everest (IMAX) 714,821 620,262 15.2 25 4 28,593 3,562,210 Freeman
18 Twilight 602,314 1,624,714 -62.9 1,354 4 445 14,254,331 Paramount
19 Mouse Hunt 443,515 44,545 895.7 713 15 622 60,331,323 DreamWorks
20 The Borrowers 411,259 1,041,278 -60.5 1,002 7 410 21,231,001 Polygram
Top 5 $ 46,927,762 $ 57,135,594 -17.9
Top 10 66,059,802 74,758,280 -11.6
Top 20 77,706,478 83,466,903 -6.9

    This column is updated three times each week : Thursday (upcoming weekend's summary), Sunday (post-weekend analysis with estimates), and Monday night (actuals). Source : Variety, EDI. Opinions expressed in this column are those solely of the author.

Last Updated : March 31, 1998 at 11:10AM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya