Weekend Box Office (May 22 - 25, 1998)
THIS WEEKEND Size definitely mattered over the weekend as Godzilla left a giant footprint at the box office, though not nearly as mighty as the industry was expecting. The $120M budgeted event film from Sony Pictures grossed a final tally of $55.7M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday frame. Adding in pre-weekend ticket sales since its Tuesday night sneak previews, Godzilla has so far gobbled up $74.3M in six and a half days. Sony's summer hopes were pinned to the giant lizard and the studio made every effort to achieve the strongest possible opening gross by unleashing the beast in a record 3,310 theaters on a total of 7,363 screens. That gave Godzilla a per-theater average of $16,836 and a per-screen average of $7,569 for the Friday-to-Sunday Memorial Day weekend.
With enough hype to bring Mothra back to life, and a record-busting screencount, Godzilla certainly had the necessary firepower going into its release to topple industry records. However, the updated monster movie fell far from reaching those goals. Last year, Steven Spielberg's The Lost World crushed the competition and set a new standard for this holiday with a $92.7M opening which included the four-day weekend plus Thursday night previews. Like Godzilla, the dinosequel also saturated the marketplace but posted a much better $27,480 per-theater average and a $14,566 per-screen average. Of course, The Lost World opened on a Friday while Godzilla opened on a Wednesday which spread the opening weekend crowd over more days.
Godzilla, for the most part, performed like the Memorial Day weekend blockbuster from two years ago, Mission: Impossible. That movie also opened on the Wednesday before the holiday and had Tuesday night sneaks. The Tom Cruise spy thriller was the top gun over that year's holiday frame collecting $56.8M over the four-day weekend and $74.9M over the six and a half day week. Godzilla ended up a notch below both of those figures making it the third-best Memorial Day weekend in history. Sony's mutated beast also chomped on the same share of ticket sales as Mission: Impossible. Godzilla accounted for 46.1% of the gross of the top ten while Mission took in 46.7% during its opening weekend in 1996. The Lost World, however, reigned supreme and accounted for a mammoth 65.7% of ticket sales for the top ten titles during its opening frame in 1997.
Sony began a seemingly endless promotional campaign for Godzilla last summer with teasers and followed it up with a reported $50M marketing budget. Most industry observers were expecting a minimum of $100M since its Tuesday opening. Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing, stated that the studio was satisfied with the performance of Godzilla and that it "played above average with all audience segments and was through the roof with kids."
The table below breaks down the week's box office performance (in millions of U.S. dollars) for the last three Memorial Day weekend blockbusters:
Sources: EDI, Exhibitor Relations, Sony Pictures Releasing
Battling the likes of Gamara, the Smog Monster. and Rodan was nothing compared to taking on the enemies Godzilla faced this weekend - harsh reviews and bad word-of-mouth. Created by the director/producer team behind Independence Day, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, Godzilla had high expectations built-in, both creatively and commercially. But the lizard picture, which starred Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, and Hank Azaria, was hammered from the beginning. The decision to release Godzilla on Wednesday instead of Friday certainly hurt its weekend gross as an early negative buzz spread midweek killing a considerable amount of potential weekend ticket sales. A Friday opening, like The Lost World had last year, would have packed the opening weekend crowd into a four-day period thereby virtually eliminating the bad word-of-mouth from midweek.
Godzilla did however post an impressive debut, regardless of expectations. Its Friday-to-Sunday gross of $44M stands as the 8th largest three-day gross ever while its $55.7M Friday-to-Monday tally is the third highest four-day opening. Also, Godzilla's debut was the biggest of the year and the largest for any movie since last July's Men in Black, also from Sony, which opened with a $51.1M three-day gross. For the studio, MIB still ranks as its best three-day opening while Godzilla takes the crown as its biggest four-day debut.
The next question is - how will Godzilla fare during the weeks ahead after its disappointing opening? All signs show massive erosion. Godzilla should end up being one of the most front-loaded blockbusters ever. With over 7,300 screens playing the lizard film over the long holiday weekend, almost anyone who really wanted to see the picture could have done so. Bad word-of-mouth will continue to spread and kill this movie quickly. Its best hopes lie with kids, especially young boys. These moviegoers are the least likely to be influenced by harsh critical reviews.
There are still many more tacos for Godzilla to devour, but a massive second weekend dropoff could lead to a final domestic gross of $140-160M. Poor reviews, a bad buzz, and news of its subpar domestic opening could also have devastating effects on the film's overseas performance. And with Godzilla likely to continue underperforming, upcoming releases can breathe a sigh of relief as the coast will be much clearer when The Truman Show, A Perfect Murder, and Six Days, Seven Nights open in early June. The weekend results for Godzilla will also be a major concern for Sony which was aiming for a franchise. The cast members are signed on to do two more Godzilla films, if the studio decides to make them.
Movie fans from all across the United States and Canada had words for Godzilla. Read what they had to say at Godzilla Sightings.
Elsewhere at the weekend box office, Deep Impact, which had held the top spot over the last two weeks, slipped to second place with a $19.4M gross over the four-day period. Down just 17% from last weekend's three-day gross, the comet picture boosted its total thus far to $98.9M in 18 days and should surpass $100M on May 26. Considering last weekend's dropoff of 44%, Deep Impact's hold was very good and the film may have benefited from moviegoers who intended to see Godzilla, but instead chose an alternative after hearing bad things about it. The Mimi Leder-directed thriller looks to be on course for a $120-140M final gross.
Showing the legs of a thoroughbred, The Horse Whisperer bagged a superb $14.5M over the Friday-to-Monday frame raising its cumulative gross to $33.1M in just 11 days. The Robert Redford film was up 6% from last weekend's three-day opening gross. Disney wisely positioned the romantic drama in May when it would be a strong counterprogramming choice to the special effects-driven, male-oriented destruction movies Deep Impact and Godzilla. The tearjerker will face new competition next weekend when Sandra Bullock's romantic comedy Hope Floats opens.
Opening in fourth place was Warren Beatty's Bulworth with $10.5M over the four-day weekend. Playing in 2,045 precincts, the political satire averaged a decent $5,142 per site. The debut was better than the openings of Beatty's last two films 1994's Love Affair ($5.4M) and 1991's Bugsy ($4.6M). Bulworth was the third star-driven political satire of this year as it followed Wag the Dog and Primary Colors. Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Deniro, opened wide with $7.8M over its three-day opening while Primary Colors, starring John Travolta, launched its campaign with $12M. Bulworth is likely to reach about $40M overall just like the two others.
Rounding out the top five was the Warner Bros. kidpic Quest for Camelot with $6.3M over the Friday-to-Monday period boosting its total to $13.8M in 11 days. Up 4% from its three-day debut last weekend, Camelot took advantage of its core audience being out of school for the holiday.
The frame's other new release, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was mostly overlooked by moviegoers as it won only $4.3M over the long weekend. Playing in only 1,126 locations, the Johnny Depp film averaged a not-so-impressive $3,850 per theater and is likely to fade away quietly.
Holiday moviegoers eagerly stepped aboard the mighty Titanic for one more cruise. In its 23rd weekend, the James Cameron epic saw a massive 74% boost and collected $3.7M over the four-day weekend. Titanic crossed the $575M mark on Saturday, its 156th day of release and now stands at $577.1M. Continuing to prove that romance equals gold at the box office, City of Angels posted $3.2M in ticket sales (up 5% from last weekend) and pushed its cume to a heavenly $70.5M.
Compared to my projections, Godzilla achieved sales that were much lower than my $90M forecast. Meanwhile, Bulworth fared better than my $7M prediction and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was on par with my $4M projection.
The top ten films grossed $120.9M which was down 12% from last year when The Lost World opened at number one with $92.7M, and was down 1% from 1996 when Mission Impossible shot to the top with $56.8M.
Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's box office which will feature the important second frame of Godzilla and the openings of Hope Floats and Almost Heroes.
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 : Variety, EDI. Opinions expressed in this column are those solely of the author.
Written by Gitesh Pandya