Weekend Box Office (May 28 - 31, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND With all the power of The Force behind it, Star Wars Episode I : The Phantom Menace presided over the Memorial Day weekend box office with an iron grip. The George Lucas-directed prequel grossed an incredible $66.9M, according to final studio figures, over the four-day Friday-to-Monday period and saw its total gross surge to a jaw-dropping $207.1M in a mere 13 days. With the holiday weekend giving more people time to hit the theaters, The Phantom Menace was able to shatter the $200M mark in record time beating the previous champ, 1996's Independence Day, which needed 20 full days plus Tuesday night previews.

Episode I set some other milestones this weekend as well. The $115M-budgeted extravaganza posted the best second weekend gross in history surpassing the $38.5M sophomore frame of 1993's Jurassic Park. The Star Wars prequel's four-day haul of $66.9M was 3% better than its three-day opening weekend gross and now stands as the second largest Memorial Day weekend take ever. The Lost World, released in 1997, opened on the holiday frame and bagged $92.7M over the period. Over the weekend, Star Wars accounted for over half of all ticket sales in the top ten while its Friday-to-Sunday gross of $51.4M was bigger than Jurassic Park's opening weekend from June 1993.

Daily grosses over the weekend for the Fox-distributed blockbuster were $13.5M for Friday, $19.3M for Saturday, $18.5M for Sunday, and $15.5M for Monday. In its sophomore session, The Phantom Menace delivered the second biggest Monday gross (behind The Lost World's first Monday) and third largest Sunday gross (behind The Lost World's first Sunday and Menace's first Sunday) in history.

With $51.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the long weekend, Episode I declined roughly 21% when compared to the comparable frame last weekend. The low depreciation rate is very encouraging for the film's long-term prospects. Godzilla and The Lost World saw large openings but then eroded away quickly. So far, The Phantom Menace is progressing very well and families are packing every theater as parents and children had time off from work and school this weekend. Next weekend will be a critical test as the opening and holiday frames will have passed and Star Wars will compete in a regular summer session.

With over $207M in the Jedi bank, Anakin Skywalker and friends are on a collision course with megablockbuster status. Although the big holiday moneymaking period is over, the busy month of June awaits and the number of competitors during the month this year is down from previous years leaving more breathing room for existing titles. Reaching the $400M domestic hurdle seems possible. Repeat business in the second half of summer will determine how much further it can go. Meanwhile, Episode I begins what should be a tremendous overseas campaign on Thursday when it invades Australia for its foreign premiere. Many theaters Down Under have reported sold out shows for the first couple of weeks.

Moviegoers across the land were charmed by the dynamic duo of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant who delivered the largest opening for a romantic comedy in history. Notting Hill, distributed by Universal, grossed $27.7M over the four-day holiday weekend and $22.2M over the traditional Friday-to-Sunday period. The tale of the Hollywood superstar who meets an English bookstore owner drew large crowds in 2,747 theaters and averaged a steamy $10,080 per site. The pretty woman beat her own record as Notting Hill's launch set a new benchmark for romantic comedy openings beating the previous champ - Roberts' own My Best Friend's Wedding which debuted with $21.7M in June 1997 in 2,134 theaters. Notting Hill's opening was also a career best for both Roberts and Grant.

Many factors contributed to the powerful start by Notting Hill. The starpower of the leads attracted loads of fans, especially women and couples. Reviews have generally been good and the marketing effort was strong. Plus, Universal released the film at a great time. Memorial Day weekend and the arrival of the Star Wars film pushed overall traffic at theaters to its highest level of the year and Notting Hill was a perfect alternative to the plethora of action and special effects movies crowding the box office. With very few good offerings for the core audience of mature women in recent months, Notting Hill dominated its sector and brought in many ticket buyers from various other demographic groups as well.

After a few turbulent years at the box office, Julia Roberts made a triumphant comeback two summers ago with the combination of My Best Friend's Wedding and Conspiracy Theory which together grossed $440M around the world. Last winter, her drama Stepmom continued to prove that moviegoers will spend top dollar to see Roberts in the right movie with about $160M worldwide thus far. Now with the explosive beginning to Notting Hill, and July's Runaway Bride right around the corner, Julia Roberts is looking to strengthen her stature as the most popular actress around. Notting Hill also invaded theaters in the United Kingdom this weekend capturing the number one spot with a powerful $5.4M and a superb $12,000 average per venue over the Friday-to-Sunday period.

With its monster hold on the third place position, Universal's The Mummy grossed $12.9M over the long weekend raising its total to a sizable $117.2M. The Friday-to-Sunday portion of $9.9M took a respectable 28% drop from last weekend. With its three-week headstart, The Mummy has successfully secured its position in the marketplace and may be headed for a final tally of $135-145M. Last week, the horror-adventure surpassed the $105.3M gross of George of the Jungle to become Brendan Fraser's highest-grossing film ever. With an amazing 3,395 theaters selling its tickets, The Mummy has been benefiting from one of the widest releases in film history.

Universal made some shrewd scheduling moves a few months back and is now earning huge rewards for them. The Mummy was placed two weekends ahead of Star Wars to cash in on the frenzy while Notting Hill, which was picked up from the Polygram family, was moved up from a later date as a counterprogramming alternative to the George Lucas prequel. With a lighter-than-usual June slate coming up, both films should soak up solid returns in the early summer box office sweepstakes.

Entrapment finished the holiday weekend in fourth with $7.2M over four days. Fox's heist film has snared $69.6M thus far and looks set for a $85-90M conclusion.

Sony's new science-fiction thriller The Thirteenth Floor opened inauspiciously in fifth place with only $4.3M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday period. Landing in 1,815 locations, Floor averaged just $2,357 per theater. Debuting against the second weekend of Star Wars took its toll as the $18M film made only a small dent into the overall box office.

A more established sci-fi entry placed sixth as the spring blockbuster The Matrix kept the registers ringing with $3.8M in its ninth weekend. With $154.8M in the domestic bank, and a $165-170M final cume approaching, The Matrix is rapidly making its way into numerous international markets over the next several weeks.

Estrogen pics followed as the Shakespeare update A Midsummer Night's Dream and the comedy Never Been Kissed collected just over $2M each. However, Dream, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Calista Flockhart, experienced one of the largest declines in the top ten while the Drew Barrymore pic enjoyed one of the biggest increases when comparing the long weekend to last weekend's non-holiday frame.

Jet Li's sci-fi action entry Black Mask kicked up a ninth place finish with $1.6M over the long weekend and was followed by the romance film The Love Letter which got hammered by Notting Hill's presence grossing just $1.4M.

Falling out of the top ten over the weekend were Paramount's Election which should eventually graduate with about $15M, and Eddie Murphy's Life which is set to retire with around $65M.

Compared to projections, The Phantom Menace came close to my $60M forecast while Notting Hill debuted with a gross almost identical to my $28M prediction. The Thirteenth Floor opened a bit weaker than my $6M projection.

Read what fans from around the world have said about the box office potential of Star Wars : Episode I in Box Office Guru's Phantom Menace Reader Forum which ran from May 1-19.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Star Wars Episode I. In last week's survey, readers were asked if they thought Notting Hill would open with at least $25M over the four-day holiday weekend. Of 4,378 responses, 73% correctly guessed Yes while 27% said No.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the box office performance of Julia Roberts' films this decade. For a review of Star Wars Episode I : The Phantom Menace visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films over the four-day weekend grossed $129.9M which was up 8% from last year's Memorial Day weekend frame when Godzilla opened at number one with $55.7M, but down 5% from 1997's holiday period when The Lost World reigned with $92.7M. The holiday fell on the previous weekend both of those years.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Instinct, starring Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr., opens.

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

# Title May 28 - 31 May 21 - 23 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Star Wars : Episode I $ 66,904,298 $ 64,810,970 3.2 3,023 2 $ 22,132 $ 207,099,058 Fox
2 Notting Hill 27,689,760 2,747 1 10,080 27,689,760 Universal
3 The Mummy 12,850,075 13,791,960 -6.8 3,395 4 3,785 117,235,705 Universal
4 Entrapment 7,234,361 6,312,182 14.6 2,753 5 2,628 69,600,581 Fox
5 The 13th Floor 4,278,452 1,815 1 2,357 4,278,452 Sony
6 The Matrix 3,830,026 2,875,521 33.2 2,102 9 1,822 154,764,576 Warner Bros.
7 Midsummer Night's Dream 2,073,723 2,608,636 -20.5 1,099 3 1,887 11,387,966 Fox Search.
8 Never Been Kissed 2,023,616 1,745,212 16.0 2,150 8 941 48,960,173 Fox
9 Black Mask 1,579,168 1,665,811 -5.2 976 3 1,618 9,484,564 Artisan
10 The Love Letter 1,439,242 2,692,819 -46.6 781 2 1,843 5,111,905 DreamWorks
11 Election 1,358,597 1,474,508 -7.9 827 6 1,643 11,079,471 Paramount
12 Life 1,353,610 1,565,215 -13.5 1,214 7 1,115 59,412,909 Universal
13 Tea With Mussolini 1,249,776 1,280,867 -2.4 266 3 4,698 5,429,094 MGM/UA
14 Trippin' 1,168,056 1,414,155 -17.4 710 3 1,645 6,802,362 October
15 Shakespeare in Love 544,060 745,400 -27.0 795 24 684 96,772,694 Miramax
16 Analyze This 505,054 629,481 -19.8 573 13 881 103,802,897 Warner Bros.
17 Ten Things I Hate ... 451,604 584,961 -22.8 649 9 696 35,247,192 BV
18 Cookie's Fortune 389,786 460,326 -15.3 401 8 972 9,767,231 October
19 The Winslow Boy 385,396 123,338 212.5 117 5 3,294 1,001,454 Sony Classics
20 Life is Beautiful 354,616 414,662 -14.5 408 31 869 56,365,226 Miramax
Top 5 $ 118,956,946 $ 90,483,452 31.5
Top 10 129,902,721 99,542,834 30.5
Top 20 137,663,276 105,959,916 29.9

Last Updated : June 1, 1999 at 11:00PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya