Weekend Box Office (May 1 - 3, 1998)

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THISáWEEKEND Swish. Spike Lee traded in his courtside seats for a chance to play on the court and led his team to a first place finish at the box office with He Got Game. The Denzel Washington hoops drama scored $7.6M over the weekend and gave its distributor Buena Vista its largest opening of the year and first number one movie since last November's Flubber. He Got Game, also starring NBA star Ray Allen, opened in 1,319 theaters which was the widest release for a Spike Lee film to date, but still trails the amount of playdates that an average new wide release would get. Still, it was able to post a slam-dunk average of $5,770 per arena.

It was the second-biggest opening weekend for the goateed director as He Got Game's debut was unable to top the opening of his last collaboration with Denzel Washington, 1992's Malcolm X, which marched into theaters with $9.9M in 1,124 locations. For Washington, He Got Game's Friday-to-Sunday performance was about even with his last film's opening as Fallen collected $9.1M over a four-day holiday weekend in January. It was also the Academy Award-winning actor's first number one movie in three years (1995's Crimson Tide was his last) and the first ever box office crown for Spike Lee. Fans of Lee, Denzel Washington, and basketball all contributed to the solid launch of He Got Game as it capitalized on playoff fever caused by the NBA's post-season competition. For a review of He Got Game visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

Remaining in second place was City of Angels with $6.6M in its fourth date with moviegoers. The leggy romantic drama starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage slid just 27% and pushed its total to a hefty $55.4M. Dropping two notches to third was last weekend's number one picture The Big Hit which grossed $5.8M. Its 47% fall was steep but not uncommon for an action film. Starring Mark Wahlberg, minus any prosthetic body parts, The Big Hit has now taken in $19.4M in ten days and looks capable of reaching $30-35M by the end of its run.

Opening in fourth with just $5M was the classic drama from Sony Les MisÚrables. Playing in 1,477 theaters, it averaged a decent $3,393 per site for the second-best per-theater average in the top ten, behind He Got Game. Les MisÚrables stars Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, and Hollywood's latest bride Uma Thurman who tied the knot with Ethan Hawke on Friday. The debut performance was not very encouraging and its chances for long-term success are slim.

Universal's woes continued with the debut of Black Dog at fifth with $4.8M. The Patrick Swayze truck driving pic turned out to be a lemon as it averaged a poor $2,375 in 2,025 theaters. The film counted on its star to deliver a strong opening but audiences were clearly not interested. Swayze's absense from the big screen during the last few years seems to have hurt his drawing power. His last films were 1995's To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar which opened with $9M and Three Wishes which managed only $2.6M its opening weekend.

For the first time, the mighty Titanic was nowhere to be found in the waters of the top five. Docked just below in sixth with a take of $4M, the romantic epic raised its massive total domestic gross to $565.7M. Dipping just 19% in its 20th weekend, the Oscar-winning motion picture is still showing signs of longevity as its chances of reaching $600M remain possible. In fact, it could sail back into the top five next weekend. However, the James Cameron boat picture did have the second-worst per-theater average in the top ten with $1,508 per lifeboat.

As far as Titanic's theatrical future goes, rumors have been floating around about Paramount taking the blockbuster out of theaters and rereleasing it in the fall with added footage. Blaise Noto, Senior Vice President at Paramount Pictures, responded by stating that the film will play through the coming months like any other movie and that there are no plans for a theatrical rerelease. Noto also said that no home video release date has been set.

Collecting $3.7M was the DreamWorks parrot movie Paulie which eased by a scant 14% for the smallest dropoff in the top ten. The kidpic is taking advantage of a marketplace lacking any other childrens movie. Gwenyth Paltrow's latest romantic comedy Sliding Doors, which performed very well in limited release last weekend, expanded its run to 495 theaters and collected $1.6M. Its $3,314 average was respectable but any future expansion is not likely to boost the movie's performance significantly. Falling out of the top ten were The Odd Couple 2 currently at $16.2M, The Players Club at $19.4M, and Mercury Rising now up to $29.8M. Also slipping was the reissue of Scream 2 which tumbled 59% from last weekend bringing the slasher film's total gross to $99.3M as it continued to creep up on the elusive $100M mark which it should reach by week's end.

A handful of new pictures opened in the arthouse circuit. Sony Classics' Wilde, directed by Brian Gilbert, grossed $69,424 in seven locations for an impressive $9,918 average. Dancer Texas, Pop. 81, from Sony Pictures, earned $87,983 in 26 theaters for a $3,384 average. Fox Searchlight's Shooting Fish earned $2,445 per house as it took in $56,240 in 23. The Brendan Fraser film Still Breathing needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as it gasped to $86,659 in 67 sites for a weak $1,293 average.

Compared to my projections, He Got Game fell short of my $10M forecast. Les MisÚrables and Black Dog grossed a bit less than my predictions of $7M and $6M respectively.

Overall, business at the nation's theaters was slow again as the last two weekends have posted the weakest results of the year so far. In fact, this weekend saw the lowest gross for the number one movie in eight months. The top ten films grossed $45.6M which was down 22% from last year when Breakdown and Austin Powers opened, but was up 31% from 1996 when The Craft opened at the top with $6.7M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday as the summer starts off with a bang with the launch of Deep Impact.

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

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

# Title May 1 - 3 Apr 24 - 26 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 He Got Game $ 7,610,663 1,319 1 $ 5,770 $ 7,610,663 BV
2 City of Angels 6,608,070 9,010,662 -26.7 2,433 4 2,716 55,441,109 WB
3 The Big Hit 5,751,053 10,809,424 -46.8 2,149 2 2,676 19,353,865 Sony
4 Les Miserables 5,011,840 1,477 1 3,393 5,011,840 Sony
5 Black Dog 4,809,375 2,025 1 2,375 4,809,375 Universal
6 Titanic 4,011,888 4,938,575 -18.8 2,660 20 1,508 565,736,321 Paramount
7 Paulie 3,749,568 4,382,728 -14.4 1,803 3 2,080 15,214,249 DreamWorks
8 The Object of My Affection 3,393,712 5,161,304 -34.2 1,991 3 1,705 21,856,227 Fox
9 Lost in Space 2,982,199 4,012,765 -25.7 2,271 5 1,313 62,052,911 New Line
10 Sliding Doors 1,640,438 834,817 96.5 495 2 3,314 2,738,642 Paramount
11 Odd Couple 2 1,523,150 2,447,913 -37.8 1,852 4 822 16,229,136 Paramount
12 The Players Club 1,384,221 2,034,303 -32.0 624 4 2,218 19,350,301 New Line
13 Mercury Rising 1,304,825 2,158,180 -39.5 1,273 5 1,025 29,843,055 Universal
14 As Good As It Gets 872,650 1,054,333 -17.2 1,205 19 724 144,751,251 Sony
15 Good Will Hunting 825,216 1,033,604 -20.2 869 22 950 134,183,512 Miramax
16 Spanish Prisoner 816,111 745,720 9.4 178 5 4,585 2,872,596 Sony Cl.
17 Species II 740,011 1,573,525 -53.0 1,010 4 733 17,888,593 MGM/UA
18 Scream 2 731,449 1,790,792 -59.2 1,211 21 604 99,297,310 Miramax
19 Everest (IMAX) 731,425 735,361 -0.5 36 9 20,317 10,402,351 Freeman
20 Barney's Great Adventure 601,995 851,806 -29.3 836 5 720 9,535,076 Polygram
Top 5 $ 29,791,001 $ 34,302,693 -13.2
Top 10 45,568,806 46,746,646 -2.5
Top 20 55,099,859 56,181,919 -1.9

    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 : May 4, 1998 at 11:30PM ESTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya