Weekend Box Office (July 2 - 5, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND A wide selection of hit movies coupled with a holiday and scorching temperatures across much of the country helped generate explosive box office fireworks in what should be one of the biggest weekends in history during the Independence Day session. Showing a true sign of the megaplex era, four pictures played in over 3,000 theaters each and seven films managed to collect over $10M over the Friday-to-Monday period.

That All-American desperado Will Smith captured another box office title over the Independence Day weekend with his latest big-budget summer popcorn film Wild Wild West which lassoed $36.4M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend, according to final studio figures. Strolling into 3,342 theaters, the Warner Bros. western averaged a strong $10,902 per corral and has gathered up $49.7M since its launch on Wednesday. Over the traditional Friday-to-Sunday portion of the weekend, the critically-panned movie took in $27.7M. The $100M+ summer event film played strongest with moviegoers under the age of 18, according to studio distribution head Dan Fellman, reflecting the immense popularity of its headlining star among that age group. Kevin Kline, Salma Hayek, and Kenneth Branagh also star.

But despite its number one opening, Wild Wild West did not deliver the firepower that many had expected. The Barry Sonnenfeld picture boasted a commercially potent combination of the starpower of Will Smith, expensive special effects, a mammoth advertising campaign, the top-selling soundtrack in the nation, a cast that popped up on every talk show and magazine cover around, a long holiday weekend, and a record-breaking amount of theaters. But the weekend gross still fell below the levels of recent Fourth of July weekend blockbusters like Armageddon ($36.1M), Men in Black ($51.1M), and Independence Day ($50.2M) as well as many of this summer's other event films like Big Daddy, Tarzan, and Austin Powers.

Should Wild Wild West have sold more tickets this weekend? Did negative reviews encourage moviegoers to spend their dollars elsewhere? Maybe. Many movies with awful reviews, like The Waterboy, have gone on to gross tons of cash because regular consumers still enjoy them. Will Smith's latest film did have to compete against six other films that attracted over $10M of business a piece over the holiday session. But word-of-mouth will be the critical key to the film's success or failure.

Adam Sandler slipped one notch to second with his latest comedy Big Daddy which picked up another $26.8M, according to estimates, in its sophomore frame. Comparing Friday-to-Sunday periods, the Sony release dropped a disturbing 52% in the face of intense new competition. Still, Big Daddy has grossed an amazing $90.5M in only 11 days of North American release and looks headed for the $150-160M range. That would give Sandler's last two films a combined domestic gross of over $300M making him one of the biggest draws at the box office today.

Swinging into third place over the Fourth of July holiday weekend was Disney's Tarzan with $19.3M. The lord of the jungle has gathered a mighty $111.1M in just 18 days of release and crossed the magic $100M mark on Saturday, its 16th day of national play. Audiences are truly enjoying the animated family film as it is destined to become one of the highest-grossing Disney toons ever. A final domestic cume of $170-180M could result.

Those foul-mouthed lads from South Park cursed their way to a fourth place debut with $14.8M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday period. Moviegoers were respecting their authority in 2,128 theaters giving the animated Paramount release a strong $6,943 average per site. The full-length feature version of the hit cartoon series finds the young boys sneaking into an R-rated profanity-filled movie which in turn expands their vocabulary, much to their parents dismay, who go on to wage a war against Canada, the country who produced the picture. With its foul language and sex-related humor, the $21M South Park film was a true test for movie theater operators who have recently pledged to strictly enforce the MPAA's rules for not letting unaccompanied children under the age of 17 into R-rated films.

But South Park prevailed and grossed an impressive $23.1M since its Wednesday opening. Despite the crude jokes, critics have been loving the film. And Paramount has proved once again how it can take an animated television property from its Viacom family and turn it into a profitable feature film. In 1996, they enjoyed a $63M gross from Beavis and Butthead Do America and last November the studio released The Rugrats Movie which went on to gross over $100M. As far as South Park's long-term success is concerned, movies with built-in cult audiences tend to exhaust most of their business in the first two weeks and then fade fast. Time will tell whether or not South Park will be any different.

Solving murder mysteries in fifth place was John Travolta with $14.2M gross for his crime thriller The General's Daughter. Despite negative reviews, the Paramount title has been a steady performer at the box office each week due in part to the lack of mature adult offerings in the marketplace. After 18 days, The General's Daughter has tallied $67.4M and is Travolta's biggest hit since Face/Off. Look for the domestic tally to flirt with nine digits.

Falling out of the top five in its seventh weekend was the mighty Star Wars Episode I which grossed $13.3M raising its cume to a mammoth $373.2M. The Phantom Menace still ranks as the fourth highest-grossing picture in box office history behind Titanic, the original Star Wars (including rereleases), and E.T. George Lucas' long-awaited prequel should surpass the total of Steven Spielberg's alien by the end of the month. However, after six weeks of ultrawide release and a lock on many of North America's biggest and best auditoriums, Episode I lost 495 theaters over the Independence Day weekend and is now playing in 2,631 sites.

With a dozen more wide releases set to launch this month, The Phantom Menace will continue to be pushed off more screens in the weeks ahead. A final domestic gross of $420-440M looks likely. At the end of its seventh weekend of domestic play, Episode I is running 21% ahead of Titanic's $308.1M at the same point. However, the James Cameron smash grossed $25.9M in its seventh weekend (a Friday-to-Sunday nonholiday frame) or more than twice the prequel's comparable weekend gross. Meanwhile, the new Star Wars saga set sales records around the world in Brazil, South Korea, and Chile last weekend, opened in Hong Kong and Mexico this weekend, and attacks Japan, Israel, and Argentina next weekend.

Dr. Evil and Mini-Me were busy planning their diabolical schemes in seventh place with Austin Powers : The Spy Who Shagged Me which collected $12.1M. After 25 days of release, New Line Cinema's biggest hit ever has amassed a groovy $171.4M and still has its "la-zer" aimed at the $190-200M region. However, it is depreciating faster than most other summer films and a crowded July schedule will not help matters any. Mike Myers has now grossed more with the Austin Powers sequel than with his two Wayne's World films combined.

Spike Lee's latest effort, the dramatic thriller Summer of Sam, opened in eighth place with $8M over the holiday frame and $6M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion. Playing in 1,536 theaters, the Buena Vista release averaged a decent $5,203 per site. Summer of Sam chronicles the time during the summer of 1977 when a heat wave and a serial killer put New York City on its edge. The director's last film, He Got Game, debuted with $7.6M in May of last year over a traditional nonholiday weekend. 1992's Malcolm X still delivered Spike Lee's biggest opening ever with $9.9M.

At number nine was Notting Hill with $5.5M pushing its total to a rosy $98.3M surpassing the $91M of her last film Stepmom. Look for the Julia Roberts romantic comedy to cross the $100M threshold by the end of the week.

Rounding out the top ten was the Miramax arthouse hit An Ideal Husband which expanded from 122 to 602 theaters and grossed a splendid $3.6M. That gave the Rupert Everett pic a solid average of $6,043 per altar. With $5.7M in sales thus far, An Ideal Husband, which also stars Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, and Minnie Driver is quickly becoming a runaway limited release summer hit like Tea With Mussolini.

Overall, the best holds were generated by mature adult films like The General's Daughter, Notting Hill, and An Ideal Husband while younger-skewing megacomedies like Austin Powers and Big Daddy suffered the steepest dropoffs.

The three freshmen titles pushed a trio of holdovers out of the top ten over the weekend. Universal's blockbuster hit The Mummy grossed $1.3M in its ninth weekend pushing its total to a spooky $148.3M. The $80M Brendan Fraser-starrer should be able to finish its domestic run with around $155M and has already begun conquering various overseas territories recently with about $83M in international ticket sales including strong performances in Germany, Japan, and Australia. Buena Vista's $57M thriller Instinct has reached $32.2M domestically and should finish with roughly $35M.

After an incredible thirteen weeks in the top ten, the spring sci-fi smash The Matrix has seen its cume rise to $166.8M. Directed by The Wachowski Brothers, the Warner Bros. action thriller was produced for $60M and has already grossed close to $300M worldwide with much more international coin to come.

Miramax enjoyed solid performances from its other arthouse pics. Lovers on the Bridge debuted in two theaters with $29,679 giving it a strong average of $14,840 per site. My Son the Fanatic, starring Om Puri and Rachel Griffiths, expanded to 14 locations grossing $84,955 or a solid average of $6,068 in its sophomore frame.

Compared to projections, Wild Wild West did not have the firepower to reach my $45M forecast. South Park and Summer of Sam both were close to my Friday-to-Sunday predictions of $14M and $7M respectively.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which of this year's hits you most want to see a sequel to. Be sure to read the NEW Weekly Rewind column which looks at the teen pics of this year. For a review of Wild Wild West visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films over the four-day holiday weekend grossed an incredible $154.1M which was up 57% from last year's three-day frame when Armageddon opened with $36.1M, and up 35% from 1997 when Men in Black debuted on top with $51.1M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when American Pie and Arlington Road debut.

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# Title July 2 - 5 June 25 - 27 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Wild Wild West $ 36,434,750 3,342 1 $ 10,902 $ 49,705,055 Warner Bros.
2 Big Daddy 26,830,993 41,536,370 -35.4 3,121 2 8,597 90,505,344 Sony
3 Tarzan 19,343,051 24,055,796 -19.6 3,103 3 6,234 111,097,897 Buena Vista
4 South Park 14,774,666 2,128 1 6,943 23,076,186 Paramount
5 The General's Daughter 14,207,504 15,178,374 -6.4 2,858 3 4,971 67,368,160 Paramount
6 Star Wars : Episode I 13,291,659 14,111,919 -5.8 2,628 7 5,058 373,166,970 Fox
7 Austin Powers 2 12,053,564 18,338,740 -34.3 3,091 4 3,900 171,355,489 New Line
8 Summer of Sam 7,991,450 1,536 1 5,203 7,991,450 Buena Vista
9 Notting Hill 5,501,520 5,527,440 -0.5 1,944 6 2,830 98,270,315 Universal
10 An Ideal Husband 3,638,074 1,139,316 219.3 602 3 6,043 5,714,125 Miramax
11 The Mummy 1,269,760 2,172,945 -41.6 992 9 1,280 148,270,815 Universal
12 The Red Violin 882,894 732,707 20.5 261 3 3,383 4,552,900 Lions Gate
13 Instinct 807,542 1,942,612 -58.4 832 5 971 32,230,446 Buena Vista
14 Shakespeare in Love 782,388 103,426 656.5 618 30 1,266 98,665,820 Miramax
15 Tea With Mussolini 755,594 641,530 17.8 284 8 2,661 10,846,181 MGM/UA
16 The Matrix 608,249 1,011,566 -39.9 747 14 814 166,784,866 Warner Bros.
17 Entrapment 522,877 826,601 -36.7 553 10 946 84,425,156 Fox
18 Run Lola Run 498,037 123,643 302.8 45 3 11,067 1,056,383 Sony Classics
19 Mysteries of Egypt 432,952 349,238 24.0 22 56 19,680 12,447,567 Imax
20 Buena Vista Social Club 386,222 234,308 64.8 50 4 7,724 1,524,432 Artisan
Top 5 $ 111,590,964 $ 113,221,199 -1.4
Top 10 154,067,231 125,015,078 23.2
Top 20 161,013,746 129,002,032 24.8

    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 : July 6, 1999 at 11:00PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya