Weekend Box Office (April 24 - 26, 1998)

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THIS WEEKEND Guns and violence pushed aside romance to take charge of the box office as Sony's The Big Hit was just that, taking in $10.8M over the weekend. The Mark Wahlberg action picture (which also stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate, and Avery Brooks) commanded the biggest opening yet for the rising film star. The artist formerly known as Marky Mark was last seen in the critically-acclaimed Boogie Nights which opened wide with $4.7M and also headlined 1996's thriller Fear which opened with $6.3M. Playing in 2,149 theaters, The Big Hit scored a strong $5,030 average. The $10.8M debut is the biggest opening for a Sony picture this year edging out January's Spice World which opened with $10.5M. The Big Hit is also the studio's first number one film since last November's bug movie Starship Troopers.

Many factors contributed to the successful launch of The Big Hit. It had many recognizable stars and the marketing pushed the action element making it look like a hip, edgy, and exciting film. Also, its target audience of young males had been left out for weeks because of the market's dominance by female-skewing films. Plus there was virtually no competition from other new releases which always helps. Action films usually play off quickly so The Big Hit could be able to reach a $30M final gross at this pace. For a review of The Big Hit visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

Jeff Blake, distribution president of Sony Pictures, said that The Big Hit exceeded the studio's expectations and that "the time was right for a young male action film." He also noted that the picture's mainstream-appealing cast and stylized action sequences were integral parts in attracting moviegoers and that for a film with a $13M production budget, it will be a solid performer.

Separately, Blake also acknowleged that he is aiming for 6,000 screens for Sony's upcoming blockbuster Godzilla which lands on North American soil on May 20th. That will make its release about as wide as last summer's The Lost World.

Dropping out of the top spot after two weeks, City of Angels collected $9M, off 27%, raising its total gross thus far to $46.6M after 17 days. The Meg Ryan-Nicolas Cage romance is still showing signs of strength and is well on its way to becoming a sorely-needed hit for Warner Brothers. Third place went to The Object of My Affection starring the newly single Jennifer Aniston. After an impressive opening last weekend, the romantic comedy about a straight woman falling for a gay man tumbled 47% to $5.2M. Its ten-day tally of $17.1M puts it on par with January's romantic drama Great Expectations starring Gwenyth Paltrow which opened similarly to Object and also amassed $17.1M after ten days. With Great Expectations grossing $26.3M, expect the same from Object.

Remaining in fourth place with $4.9M was Titanic in its 19th weekend of release. The ocean liner epic was down 33% and pushed its domestic total to $560.6M. The James Cameron film hit a historic $1 billion in overseas ticket sales on Saturday - a mammoth achievement. Japan still leads the pack with $128.9M, followed by France's $118M, Germany's $114.5M, and the U.K.'s $106.7M. Titanic has become the all-time box office champ in 50 territories around the world including China where it accomplished the feat in less than three weeks with its $19.2M beating Cameron's own True Lies.

Rounding out the top five was the DreamWorks kidpic Paulie which was off just 18% and earned $4.4M in its sophomore session. Experiencing the smallest dropoff in the top ten, the parrot pic nosed its ten-day cume up to $10.8M.

Miramax rereleased Scream 2 in 1,769 locations because "audiences asked for it." Apparently they must have forgotten that they asked for it since the slasher film grossed a measly $1.8M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, landing it in tenth place. The Wes Craven gorefest, which averaged just $1,012 per horror house, needs another $1.9M to join the original Scream in the $100M club. This will probably happen early next week. The weekend's other new wide release was Tarzan and the Lost City from Warner Bros. which swung into 1,412 sites. The mighty Tarzan arrived with an impotent $1.1M giving the studio yet another flop.

Warners is one of two big Hollywood studios being overshadowed by the success of their small subsidiaries. In the last nine months, the studio has suffered very disappointing box office results from expensive, star-driven movies like Sphere ($37M), The Postman ($17.4M), and Mad City ($10.6M) while New Line Cinema (owned by Warners) has cranked out Money Talks ($41.1M), Spawn ($55M), The Wedding Singer ($75M to date), and Lost in Space ($58.5M thus far). Over at Disney, the two highest-grossing films of the last nine months have been Flubber with $93M and G.I. Jane with $48.2M. However, their subsidiary Miramax Films has released the more successful (and not to mention less expensive) films Good Will Hunting and Scream 2 with current grosses of $133M and $98.1M respectively. Clearly, the children are crucial when the parents are down and out.

Gwenyth Paltrow's latest offering Sliding Doors debuted with a powerful $7,135 per theater in only 117 locations for a $835,000 gross. The film goes wide next Friday. Opening in 316 theaters, Two Girls and a Guy, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Heather Graham in a story of a man's infidelity, grossed an ok $649,000 for an average of $2,055 per location.

Compared to my projections, The Big Hit's $10.8M packed much more heat than the $6M I had predicted. Adversely, Scream 2's return did not reach my $6M forecast. Tarzan flopped as expected, but performed even worse than my $4M projection.

Overall, the top ten films grossed $46.7M which was down 12% from last year when Volcano erupted at number one with $14.6M, but was up 13% from 1996 when The Quest opened at the top with $7M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's activity which includes the openings of He Got Game, Black Dog, and Les Miserables.

And don't forget to voice your opinion in this week's new Box Office Guru Reader Survey. A new weekly survey will appear each Friday.

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

# Title Apr 24 - 26 Apr 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 The Big Hit $ 10,809,424 2,149 1 $ 5,030 $ 10,809,424 Sony
2 City of Angels 9,010,662 12,332,194 -26.9 2,433 3 3,704 46,556,083 WB
3 The Object of My Affection 5,161,304 9,725,855 -46.9 1,962 2 2,631 17,094,017 Fox
4 Titanic 4,938,575 7,407,989 -33.3 2,912 19 1,696 560,615,350 Paramount
5 Paulie 4,382,728 5,369,800 -18.4 1,757 2 2,494 10,789,657 DreamWorks
6 Lost in Space 4,012,765 7,451,911 -46.2 2,917 4 1,376 58,090,451 New Line
7 Odd Couple 2 2,447,913 3,775,347 -35.2 1,852 3 1,322 14,072,734 Paramount
8 Mercury Rising 2,158,180 3,728,905 -42.1 1,775 4 1,216 27,891,395 Universal
9 The Players Club 2,034,303 3,589,903 -43.3 624 3 3,260 17,351,589 New Line
10 Scream 2 1,790,792 1,769 20 1,012 98,104,519 Miramax
11 Species II 1,573,525 4,013,009 -60.8 1,777 3 885 16,633,222 MGM/UA
12 Tarzan and the Lost City 1,110,564 1,412 1 787 1,110,564 WB
13 As Good As It Gets 1,054,333 1,558,025 -32.3 1,051 18 1,003 143,556,984 Sony
14 Good Will Hunting 1,033,604 1,465,824 -29.5 927 21 1,115 133,038,103 Miramax
15 Barney's Great Adventure 851,806 1,473,999 -42.2 833 4 1,023 8,690,742 Polygram
16 Sliding Doors 834,817 117 1 7,135 834,817 Miramax
17 Primary Colors 833,400 1,534,305 -45.7 926 6 900 36,379,432 Universal
18 Spanish Prisoner 745,720 316,653 135.5 100 4 7,457 1,681,164 Sony Classics
19 Everest (IMAX) 735,361 861,058 -14.6 32 8 22,980 9,204,220 Freeman
20 Major League 3 662,143 2,087,011 -68.3 2,096 2 316 3,181,822 WB
Top 5 $ 34,302,693 $ 42,287,749 -18.9
Top 10 46,746,646 59,481,924 -21.4
Top 20 56,181,919 71,543,536 -21.5

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

Last Updated : April 28, 1998 at 12:15AM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya