Weekend Box Office (July 9 - 11, 1999)
The horny high schoolers of American Pie
topped a box office that is still surging towards an arousing new industry
record. But for the first time in eleven weeks, no film managed to sell
at least $20M worth of tickets. Dropoffs were relatively low for most titles
when compared to last weekend as the top ten films raked in over $100M
for the fifth straight session.
Universal Pictures took the biggest slice of the box office this weekend with its raunchy sex comedy American Pie which opened at number one with a tasty $18.7M, according to final figures, knocking Will Smith and his robotic bugs to second. The picture follows a group of teenage boys who vow to lose their virginity before graduating high school. Moviegoers pleasured themselves in 2,508 theaters delivering a flirtatious $7,460 per site. Since distributors hold on to a much larger percentage of the gross in the first week of play, Universal has already covered the reported $11M production cost this weekend and will recoup its marketing and releasing tab within days. As is often the case with teen-themed movies, Friday accounted for its largest one-day gross over the weekend as American Pie dipped about 3% on Saturday. However, its Saturday-to-Sunday depreciation of only 11% was the lowest in the top ten indicating that the film could have staying power.
The opening of American Pie was quite impressive as it capitalized on the industry buzz the film has generated over the last few months. With lesser known stars like Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Tara Reid, and Natasha Lyonne, American Pie carried small actor salaries while still appealing directly to the target teen and young adult audience which looked at this film as a coming-of-age sex comedy for their generation. With students on summer vacation, the R-rated film's debut performance beat out openings for other recent high school pics like She's All That ($16.1M), Varsity Blues ($15.2M), and Cruel Intentions ($13M). Plus it even beat the premiere weekend take for last summer's gross-out hit comedy There's Something About Mary which bowed with $13.7M over its Friday-to-Sunday opening and $17.8M over its five-day debut.
Big Willie brought his style to second place as Will Smith's Wild Wild West grossed $16.8M in its second weekend of release. Down 39% from the Friday-to-Sunday portion of last weekend's holiday opening, the Warner Bros. event pic suffered the second worst dropoff of any film in the top ten but raised its 12-day cume to $76.6M. Though a hefty sum for less than two weeks of work, Wild Wild West will need better legs, both here and abroad, if it hopes to recoup its massive production and marketing costs which are estimated to be north of $150M. Nevertheless, the western-themed action film, which also stars Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, and Salma Hayek, will soon become the fourth consecutive $100M blockbuster for the artist formerly known as Fresh Prince.
A final domestic total of $120-130M could be in the works. Ask any industry analyst at the onset of the summer movie season if Wild Wild West would spend only one week at number one and most would have answered with a firm no. Such is the unpredictable nature of the box office. Meanwhile, music for the film remains hot as the film claimed the top-selling soundtrack in the country for the third straight week, ahead of discs for Tarzan and Austin Powers.
Stepping down a notch, Adam Sandler lost custody of only 20% of his audience from last weekend as Big Daddy grossed $16M. With a sizzling $116.5M in only 17 days, the Sony comedy is the studio's highest-grossing film since Godzilla and is expected to overcome the big lizard's $136.3M domestic total in another week or so. Big Daddy's solid performance was especially impressive considering its hefty 52% depreciation last weekend which seemed to indicate that the film might erode quickly. The comedy crossed the $100M mark on Thursday, its 14th day of release.
Tarzan enjoyed another solid session of ticket sales by collecting $10.8M. Down only 22%, the Disney animated blockbuster has swung to a muscular cume of $129M surpassing the $120.6M domestic total of the studio's last summer toon Mulan. Tarzan, after initially dominating the children's marketplace, has broadened its appeal to teens and adults as well according to Buena Vista distribution head Chuck Viane. By next weekend, look for the lord of the jungle to breeze past the $141.6M of 1995's Disney hit Pocahontas.
One of the season's surprisingly durable titles, The General's Daughter, held steady in fifth place with $7.9M in its fourth weekend. Off just 26%, the John Travolta crime thriller has hit a cume of $79.2M and now looks to cruise past $100M in the weeks ahead. Like the high-priced star's other recent films (A Civil Action, Face/Off), The General's Daughter was a co-production between Paramount and Buena Vista. A drought of titles specifically aimed at the mature adult crowd has helped the murder mystery thus far, but this Friday's debut of Eyes Wide Shut will pose a new challenge.
Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins squared off in the new suspense thriller Arlington Road which opened in sixth place with $7.5M. The Sony release planted bombs in 1,631 locations and averaged a so-so $4,608 per site. Delayed from its earlier release date, Arlington Road lacked the starpower to compete with some of the box office heavyweights currently taking up space in cinemas. A mediocre theatrical performance seems likely though a larger audience will probably find it on video this winter.
Jar Jar and pals took seventh place with $7.5M for Star Wars Episode I. In its eighth weekend of release, the George Lucas smash hit continued to be a powerful force at the box office slipping a mere 22% and pushing its mammoth cume to $385.2M. A sustained marketing campaign on the part of Fox, Pepsi, and other promotional partners is keeping awareness for the nearly two-month old title at high levels. Losing another 184 theaters, The Phantom Menace has plotted a course to cross the $400M barrier after two more weekends. A final domestic gross of $420-440M still looks likely.
At the end of its eighth weekend of domestic play, Episode I is now running only 14% ahead of Titanic's $337.4M at the same point. The Oscar champ grossed a mightier $23M in its eighth weekend compared to the prequel's $7.4M. On this planet's other side, The Phantom Menace marched into Japan on Saturday into a massive 412 theaters and sold an estimated 500,000 tickets which should break the previous record held by last year's Godzilla. Like with the recent blockbusters Titanic and Armageddon, Japan is expected to deliver the biggest overseas gross of any nation for Episode I as action and sci-fi films attract huge audiences in a country where movie tickets are incredibly expensive.
The young animated stars of South Park were messing with the fragile little minds of moviegoers this weekend to the tune of $7.1M. After twelve days of release, the Paramount hit has amassed an impressive $35.5M and declined a reasonable 38% in its sophomore frame. Produced for about $20M, South Park should go on to gross a solid $50-60M domestically, take in some decent international coin, and be a huge hit on home video.
The Austin Powers sequel placed ninth with $6.8M putting its hefty total at a towering $182.5M making it 1999's second highest-grossing pic. Summer of Sam fell 42% in its second try with ticket buyers and took in $3.5M to push its ten-day cume to $14.1M. Look for the Spike Lee-directed pic to finish with $20-23M which would be similar to the $21.6M gross of his last film He Got Game.
Notting Hill and An Ideal Husband both fell from the top ten over the weekend. Universal's Julia Roberts-Hugh Grant romantic comedy crossed the $100M mark on Thursday, its 42nd day of release, to become the 8th release of the year to pass that level. It also takes its place as the sixth such blockbuster for the superstar actress after Pretty Woman, Sleeping with the Enemy, Hook, The Pelican Brief, and My Best Friend's Wedding. For the weekend, Notting Hill grossed $3M (easing just 22%) and pushed its cume to $103.1M. A final domestic haul of $115-125M is on the menu. Universal's move to push the film's release date up to late May, thereby beating the other Roberts summer film Runaway Bride, has paid off handsomely as Notting Hill successfully took on the boy movies of early summer establishing itself as a popular alternative.
Miramax's An Ideal Husband continued its strong run slipping just 16% from last weekend to take in $2.3M. In its fourth trip to the altar, Husband has tallied $9M with less than 800 playdates. Miramax stablemate My Son the Fanatic, about a Pakistani man's affair with a prostitute in England, continued to attract solid business grossing $64,452 in just 20 theaters in its third frame (up 4% from last weekend). October Films opened the French-language pic The Autumn Tale in two New York sites and generated a healthy $33,631.
Compared to projections, American Pie opened a few notches higher than my $15M forecast while Arlington Road was very close to my $8M prediction.
Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which looks at this year's crop of teen and high school films. This Wednesday's new column will report on the box office track record of Tom Cruise, a star that has been absent from theaters for over two years. For a review of American Pie visit Chief's Movie Review Page.
The top ten films over the weekend grossed $102.7M which was down 9% from last year when Lethal Weapon 4 opened with $34M, but up 8% from 1997 when Men in Black remained on top with $30.1M.
Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Eyes Wide Shut finally makes it to theaters across North America.
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 12, 1999 at 10:00PM EDT
Written by Gitesh Pandya