Weekend Box Office (July 3 - 5, 1998)
THIS WEEKEND Where's Will Smith when you need him? The Fourth of July holiday weekend saw Bruce Willis blast off in Armageddon as it nabbed the number one spot in its opening weekend with a final gross of $36.1M. Although a mighty sum, the mega-hyped, big-budget, testosterone flick was expected to set off more powerful fireworks than this. Opening on Wednesday July 1st, the Disney asteroid movie has collected $54.2M in five days of release and could reach $100M in another week or so. It was the second largest debut for the studio behind 1994's The Lion King which roared in with $40.9M. But it was not enough to boost the entire frame as for the first time since 1989, the Independence Day weekend top ten grossed less than the previous weekend.
Lifting off in 3,127 launch pads, Armageddon averaged a sturdy, but not boffo, $11,541 per theater. It stands as the third best opening of the year behind Godzilla's $44M (over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its holiday opening) and rival comet pic Deep Impact's $41.2M. However, when comparing per-theater averages, Armageddon's debut falls to fourth behind The Truman Show as well. Those releases, though, did not have to battle an outdoor-themed holiday falling on the prime moviegoing day of Saturday which was the case this weekend. For the former Mr. Demi Moore, Armageddon gave him his strongest opening ever and was the actor's ninth number one film of the decade.
The crater left by Armageddon over the weekend was not as destructive as the industry was braced for. With an astronomical budget of $140M plus one of Hollywood's loudest and most expensive advertising campaigns estimated to be about $50M, Disney needed more megatons of firepower from their tentpole pic. Armageddon represented the last "sure-thing mega-blockbuster" of the summer season and the odds-on-favorite to win the summer box office crown. It will not reach $200M domestically but has a shot at $150M. However, Bruce Willis is still one of the biggest draws overseas. Together, The Fifth Element and Die Hard 3 grossed over $550M in international markets representing over 70% of each's worldwide cume. Disney will need that muscle to break even on this costly project. The asteroid struck South Korea, New Zealand, and Columbia over the weekend and will impact much of Europe over the next two weeks as the World Cup concludes.
Armageddon's $36.1M gives it the third-biggest weekend gross for the holiday frame behind last year's Men in Black and 1996's Independence Day. The Bruce Willis rock pic could not come close to matching the two previous holiday blockbusters as MIB managed three-day and five-day grosses of $51.1M/$79.3M while ID4 reached $50.2M/$85M. Maybe if Bruce and the boys battled some aliens on the asteroid more moviegoers would have turned up.
It now seems apparent that Paramount's Deep Impact took its toll on Armageddon. Many ticket buyers were not interested in seeing another meteor-heads-for-Earth disaster movie just weeks after the first one. Deep Impact, still the highest-grossing new release of the year with $137.2M, can attribute much of its success to its early release date. Opening on May 8th in a dead marketplace, it racked up over $75M before the next big event film, Godzilla, hit theaters 12 days later.
Armageddon's performance over the next two weeks will tell whether the dueling comet flicks will follow the patterns set by competing volcano and Wyatt Earp films of the recent past where the first one to reach the consumer ended up grossing more. Last year, Dante's Peak arrived in February collecting $67.2M and was followed by the weaker April film Volcano which grossed $47.5M. A few years back, Tombstone rang up $55.9M while Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp collected just $25.1M a few months later. In 1992, a similar fate fell upon August's Christopher Columbus and October's 1492.
Whether they realize it or not, moviegoers sent an important message to the motion picture studios. Big-budget event pictures, crammed with special effects and heavily promoted to no end, will not guarantee a huge audience turnout. The two most hyped films of the summer, Godzilla and Armageddon, failed to generate the level of interest expected. Last summer's loudest releases were The Lost World and Batman & Robin. Although the dinosequel smashed every record in the book during its opening weekend, it plummeted in the following weeks and ended with $229.1M thanks mostly to its frontloaded run. The Dynamic Duo had a strong opening but instantly died leaving Warners with just $107.3M for a film which cost about $175M to produce and market. Can a motion picture have too much hype? The answer seems to be yes. Maybe Hollywood will turn the volume down when it comes to hype or else they will continue to get burned.
Movie fans had their choice of holdovers to see over the holiday frame. Doctor Dolittle lost only 32% of his patients and collected a respectable $19.7M pushing its ten-day tally to a vibrant $64.8M. By comparison, Eddie Murphy's The Nutty Professor, which opened on the same weekend in 1996, ate up $59.8M in its first ten days on its way to a final gross of $128.8M. Dolittle looks on course to reach about $120M.
Another solid performance was displayed by Disney's wonder woman Mulan which took in $11.5M raising its total treasure to $77M in 17 days. Down 33%, the ancient Chinese tale is a winner with kids and critics alike. Disney had 4 of the top ten films in North America - a rare feat - accounting for an impressive 56% of all sales in the top ten. Harrison Ford's Six Days, Seven Nights landed in seventh with $5.8M and The Horse Whisperer was still galloping ahead with $1.3M as it finishes a fantastic two month run in the top ten.
Landing in fourth place was the sophomore crime caper Out of Sight from Universal. The George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez picture is not translating positive reviews into box office gold as it dropped a hefty 45% from its debut last weekend to $6.6M. After ten days, Out of Sight has looted $23.2M and looks headed for about $40M in the end. Rounding out the top five, The X Files lost many truthseekers and abducted $6.3M, down 53%. Look for Mulder and Scully to end up with $80-90M domestically. In its second weekend of re-release, the nearly four-hour epic Gone With The Wind netted $900,000, according to estimates. Down just 25%, the spruced up classic has added $2.8M to its lifetime cume which is now $194.7M (not adjusted for inflation).
With the first half of the summer season coming to an end, the trend that is developing is that moviegoers are spreading their time evenly among a large number of pictures and not propelling one or two to stratospheric heights. So far, 11 summer releases have passed the $50M mark in ticket sales. That's up 3 from the 8 films that reached that same mark in the same time during the last three summers.
Compared to my projections, Armageddon did not reach the $53M height I had forecasted. However, Dolittle and Mulan came close to my respective predictions of $19M and $12M.
Fresh Prince fans take note. Will Smith will return to his cozy Independence Day weekend slot next year when he rejoins MIB director Barry Sonnenfeld for Wild, Wild West. Sorry, no aliens in this one.
Be sure to read the new Weekly Rewind column which appears each Wednesday. This week looks back at the Independence Day weekends from this decade. And don't forget to voice your opinion in this week's new Reader Survey on Scream 3. In last week's survey, 62.9% of readers predicted that Armageddon would open with at least $50M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. For reviews of the Bruce Willis pic and other new releases visit Chief's Movie Review Page.
The top ten films grossed $98.2M which was down 14% from last year and down 18% from 1996. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend which will see Lethal Weapon 4 and Small Soldiers go head-to-head in an attempt to unseat Armageddon.
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