Weekend Box Office (April 16 - 18, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND North American audiences were ready to laugh as Eddie Murphy's Life led a box office frame which saw comedies litter the top ten. With only one major newcomer to compete with, most films experienced slim to moderate declines though only three films managed to gross over $4M. The Matrix, which slipped from the top spot after a two week reign, still brought in killer business and is thriving in this pre-Phantom Menace box office period.

Moviegoers sentenced Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence to a number one opening for their prison comedy Life which grossed $20.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Averaging a stellar $7,870 in 2,594 jail cells, the Ted Demme-directed film executed the second-best April opening in history trailing only The Matrix which it unseated from the top spot. Life delivered the third biggest opening of 1999 and the second best debut for a spring comedy behind Liar, Liar from March 1997. The starpower of the two comic leads helped Life reach the top of the box office as did being the only major new entry this weekend. Despite a flood of comedies pouring into theaters this spring, movie fans turned out in droves for the well-reviewed Life which follows the lives of two men in prison over the course of sixty years.

Murphy and Martin last teamed up in 1992's Boomerang which debuted with $13.6M and reached $70.1M in domestic sales. Though Murphy's last film Holy Man was a disaster at the box office, ticket buyers had no problem trying out Life in its premiere weekend. The film's 28% increase in Friday-to-Saturday sales was encouraging and could indicate that a healthy run is in the making. Universal needed this hit badly as aside from the winter smash Patch Adams, the studio has not enjoyed any big hits in almost two years. Recent disappointments have included Ed TV, Virus, and Psycho.

The Matrix, which proved to be the chosen one at the box office for two weeks, slid just 21% in its third weekend tabulating $17.9M in ticket sales. Solid midweek business and low weekly declines have helped the science fiction thriller reach an eye-popping $98.9M in only 19 days. The Warner Bros. blockbuster is expected to break through the $100M barrier on Monday, its 20th day of release, making it the highest-grossing film of 1999 and the first movie of this year to reach the noted milestone. The Matrix will cross the $100M mark faster than many other recent favorites such as A Bug's Life, Patch Adams, and Rush Hour. With its immense popularity, crossover sales, and repeat business, the Keanu Reeves-Laurence Fishburne pic could certainly elevate to a domestic cume of $160M or more. Whoa!

Drew Barrymore stepped back one notch and saw $8.4M for her comedy Never Been Kissed which took third place. Fox's undercover high school tale declined a slender 29% and brought its ten-day sum to an encouraging $22.9M. With a sturdy sophomore frame, Kissed could eventually gross a healthy $45M or so.

Taking in $3.9M, off a slim 21%, the smash comedy hit Analyze This spent its seventh weekend in the top five and pushed its cume to a terrific $91.1M. Later this week, the Warner Bros. pic should surpass the $93M gross of When Harry Met Sally to become Billy Crystal's second highest-grossing film behind 1991's City Slickers which lassoed $124M. Analyze This has already given Oscar-winner Robert De Niro the biggest box office hit of his career and continues to show strong legs.

Buena Vista's high school comedy Ten Things I Hate About You showed some stamina by easing just 26% from last weekend and collected $3.7M in its third frame. After 19 days, Ten Things has grossed a respectable $25.1M and should reach $35-40M domestically which would be comparable to other such youth pics as Cruel Intentions, Urban Legend, and The Faculty.

Paramount's Steve Martin-Goldie Hawn comedy The Out-of-Towners collected $3.1M, down 38%, raising its tally to $20.5M in 17 days. The $40M pic could top out at nearly $30M stateside and will need some strength in overseas theatrical and home video to break even. Slipping 36%, Sony's new picture Go took in $3M and has grossed $9.4M in its first ten days. Produced for roughly $7M, the Doug Liman movie should corner a total of $14-17M at domestic turnstiles. Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck snuggled into eighth place with $2.5M for their romantic comedy Forces of Nature.

Entering the top ten in ninth place was Robert Altman's latest picture, Cookie's Fortune, from October Films. After expanding from 179 to 559 theaters, it grossed $1.8M pushing its cume to $3.4M. Cookie's per-theater average of $3,222 was fourth-best in the top twenty while its 83% Friday-to-Saturday boost looks promising for the future. The last time an Altman film hit the top ten was with 1992's The Player. October Films plans to keep Cookie's Fortune in roughly the same amount of locations this coming weekend.

This year's Academy Award darling, Shakespeare in Love, reentered the top ten due to a low depreciation and heavy falloffs of other newer pics. With $1.75M, the Gwenyth Paltrow-starrer has upped its cume to $89.9M and still hopes to make it to the land of nine digits.

Three titles tumbled out of the top ten over the weekend. Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons lost over half of its audience in its sophomore session and collected $1.4M. Look for the Miramax release to wind up with a puny $7-9M. By comparison, his last film, New Line's Rush Hour, grossed more than that on its opening day alone.

Doug's First Movie has hit $15.7M and is set to conclude with $18-20M. And Artisan's new comedy Foolish, which debuted with a promising start last weekend, was hammered by awful reviews and nosedived 75% in its second weekend while retaining all of its screens. With $3.2M in the bank, look for the Eddie Griffin-Master P flick to finish with just $4-5M.

Opening inauspiciously beneath the top ten was the Warner Bros. film Goodbye Lover starring Patricia Arquette, Don Johnson, and Ellen DeGeneres which grossed a feeble $1M. Playing in 865 sites, the mystery averaged a pathetic $1,169 as moviegoers showed no desire to spend money or time with it. Elsewhere at the box office, Italy's Life is Beautiful reached a cumulative tally of $50M in domestic theatrical revenue which puts the worldwide gross for the Oscar-winning picture at an incredible $175M. And in limited release, Kate Winslet's new film Hideous Kinky grossed $82,431 in ten locations in New York and Los Angeles giving it an encouraging $8,243 average.

Compared to projections, Life opened a few million better than my $16M forecast while The Matrix was quite close to my $17M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the upcoming summer movies. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of Julia Roberts' two summer films will gross more at the domestic box office. Of 1,855 responses, 66% said The Runaway Bride (July 30, Paramount) while 34% chose Notting Hill (May 28, Universal).

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the highest-grossing films of Eddie Murphy. For a review of Life visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $66.6M which was up 12% from last year when City of Angels was number one with $12.3M, and up 27% from 1997 when Anaconda remained on top with $12M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Pushing Tin and Lost and Found debut.

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

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

# Title Apr 16 - 18 Apr 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Life $ 20,414,775 2,594 1 $ 7,870 $ 20,414,775 Universal
2 The Matrix 17,941,314 22,563,331 -20.5 2,903 3 6,180 98,946,842 Warner Bros.
3 Never Been Kissed 8,411,489 11,836,707 -28.9 2,458 2 3,422 22,911,743 Fox
4 Analyze This 3,925,813 4,997,020 -21.4 2,307 7 1,702 91,149,603 Warner Bros.
5 Ten Things I Hate ... 3,733,562 5,049,227 -26.1 2,311 3 1,616 25,136,802 BV
6 The Out-of-Towners 3,114,729 5,010,781 -37.8 2,119 3 1,470 20,503,962 Paramount
7 Go 3,018,312 4,706,795 -35.9 1,563 2 1,931 9,359,328 Sony
8 Forces of Nature 2,464,522 3,537,259 -30.3 2,214 5 1,113 45,786,811 DreamWorks
9 Cookie's Fortune 1,801,083 1,009,581 78.4 559 3 3,222 3,363,030 October
10 Shakespeare in Love 1,750,254 2,156,955 -18.9 1,443 19 1,213 89,856,022 Miramax
11 Life is Beautiful 1,636,781 1,910,801 -14.3 1,113 26 1,471 50,013,888 Miramax
12 Twin Dragons 1,395,126 2,829,990 -50.7 1,131 2 1,234 4,893,374 Miramax
13 Doug's First Movie 1,359,867 2,407,375 -43.5 1,914 4 710 15,735,750 BV
14 Ed TV 1,023,975 2,055,075 -50.2 1,517 4 675 20,505,385 Universal
15 Goodbye Lover 1,011,175 865 1 1,169 1,011,175 Warner Bros.
16 Baby Geniuses 920,555 1,515,473 -39.3 1,464 6 629 22,714,360 Sony
17 October Sky 578,160 680,050 -15.0 657 9 880 28,471,440 Universal
18 Saving Private Ryan 558,862 455,512 22.7 711 39 786 214,276,095 DreamWorks
19 Foolish 549,363 2,184,633 -74.9 305 2 1,801 3,207,109 Artisan
20 True Crime 434,957 941,307 -53.8 1,006 5 432 15,846,698 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 54,426,953 $ 49,457,066 10.0
Top 10 66,575,853 65,123,118 2.2
Top 20 76,044,674 77,238,099 -1.5

    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 : April 19, 1999 at 11:30PM ESTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya