Weekend Box Office (July 10 - 12, 1998)

** Read the NEW Weekly Rewind column **

THIS WEEKEND The box office received a Lethal injection over the weekend as three new films pumped almost $55M into the frame while Armageddon stood strong in its second orbit.

Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and pals gave Warner Bros. an explosive opening with the $34M debut of Lethal Weapon 4. Taking over as the studio's most prized franchise, Weapon 4 delivered the largest opening for Warners since last summer's Batman & Robin which arrived with $42.9M. Opening in 3,117 locations, it averaged a dynamite $10,923 per theater. The action sequel, which also starred Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Chris Rock, and Jet Li, was a huge risk since moviegoers could have decided that a fourth installment would be tired and unnecessary. Instead, Lethal Weapon 4 gave ticket buyers just what they wanted - fun summer entertainment from a brand name franchise made by trusted industry professionals. Director Richard Donner and producer Joel Silver saw their latest Weapon beat out the openings of the 1987 original ($6.8M), 1989's sequel ($20.4M), the $33.2M launch of 1992's Lethal Weapon 3.

For superstar Mel Gibson, this latest Weapon of mass destruction gave him his second-best opening ever almost surpassing Ransom's $34.2M from two years ago. It did however fare better than his last film Conspiracy Theory (also from the Donner/Silver duo) which debuted at number one last August with $19.3M. With $34M, Lethal Weapon 4 now stands as the fifth biggest July opener and eighth best debut performance for Warner Bros. The cop buddy movie should become the first $100M domestic grosser for the studio since Contact which opened one year ago this weekend. For Gibson, Weapon 4 is well on its way to becoming his sixth $100M blockbuster.

One reason why Lethal Weapon 4 did so well over the weekend was its incredibly broad appeal. With its diverse cast, hunky star, and blend of action with comedy, the film transcended age, gender, and racial boundaries. Plus, in a summer of overwhelming digital effects that threw comets, lizards, and aliens at moviegoers, Lethal Weapon 4 offered a good old-fashion dose of death-defying stunts, exciting car chases, and dazzling martial arts fight sequences. The Lethal Weapon freshmen are likely to get big boosts to their careers with this blockbuster. Chris Rock, one of the hottest young comedians in the business, and Jet Li, a superstar in Hong Kong action films, will benefit from tremendous worldwide exposure from Lethal Weapon 4. In the weeks ahead, Warner Bros. will roll out Lethal Weapon 4 across the world with Australia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Finland, Japan, and Brazil up next. In the midst of soccer hysteria, Mel Gibson and company arrive next week in the homes of World Cup champion France.

Slipping one spot to number two was Disney's asteroid adventure Armageddon with $23.6M pushing its 12-day cume to a fiery $99.9M. Down just 34.7%, the Bruce Willis hit claimed the second-lowest depreciation in the top ten. Its sophomore weekend dropoff rate was lower than those of the other summer blockbusters The Truman Show (36.6%), Deep Impact (43.5%) and Godzilla (59%). The 34.7% slip was also better than those of the actor's last two films Mercury Rising (46%) and The Jackal (40.5%) and was even with producer Jerry Bruckheimer's previous action offering Con Air which lost 35% in its second flight. Compared to recent Fourth of July openings, Armageddon dropped less than Men in Black (41.1%) but more than Independence Day (29.8%).

Overall, it was a terrific showing for Armageddon in weekend number two, especially after the studio took a beating in the press all week with writers describing its holiday opening of $36.1M "disappointing" and "disastrous". Armageddon will shoot past the $100M barrier on Monday and become Disney's first such blockbuster since last July's George of the Jungle which collected $105.2M domestically. Also, Armageddon will join Pulp Fiction, Look Who's Talking, and the last two Die Hard films in becoming the fifth $100M grosser to feature Bruce Willis. With a sturdy second weekend, Armageddon now looks on course to approach $175M domestically. Its performance thus far has paralleled last summer's Air Force One which had a similar opening of $37.1M and grossed $80.7M in its first ten days. Taking out Armageddon's first Wednesday and Thursday grosses, it earned $81.7M from its first Friday to its second Sunday - a bit more than Air Force One. The Harrison Ford smash went on to collect $172.6M.

Marching into third place was Small Soldiers from DreamWorks which racked up $14M in ticket sales from young cadets across the United States and Canada. Invading 2,539 cinemas, the Soldiers averaged a solid $5,533 per site. It was the biggest opening weekend in the short history of DreamWorks surpassing the $12.3M premiere of their first release The Peacemaker last September. The story of toys gone wild and attacking humans targeted young males as its primary audience and hit its mark. Increasing just 8% on Saturday from Friday, Small Soldiers could encounter some land mines in the weeks ahead.

"Small Soldiers opened right on target with our expectations" said Jim Tharp, distribution head of DreamWorks. "It did extremely well with young boys and quite well with young girls too." Due to little direct competion in the weeks ahead, Tharp sees the title playing very well throughout the month.

Eddie Murphy continued to charm movie fans as Doctor Dolittle kept on talking to the animals to the tune of $12.9M. Its 34.6% dip was the smallest in the top ten pushing its cume to a terrific $89.2M in just 17 days. By comparison, The Nutty Professor ate up $80.2M in the same period in 1996 putting the Doctor 11% ahead of the Professor. With these strong legs, Dolittle could be headed for $140M+ in domestic sales. Murphy's voice is also helping Disney's Mulan reach stratospheric heights as the animated feature grossed $7M in its fourth cross-dressing weekend boosting its total to $91.9M. Off a respectable 39%, Mulan will join Doctor Dolittle in reaching the $100M club next weekend.

Another kidpic opened in sixth place as Madeline strutted her way to $6.4M. The Sony film starring Frances McDormand and Hatty Jones debuted in 1,863 schoolhouses and averaged an ok $3,443. The opening was similar to Harriet the Spy, which was also aimed at young girls, and opened two years ago this weekend collecting $6.6M from 1826 theaters. While Harriet went on to gross $26.5M, Madeline should finish at around $25M and see a healthy run on home video in the fourth quarter.

The overall box office climate remains vibrant as so many titles are succeeding simultaneously in the marketplace. So far, six releases have opened with $30M+ weekends this summer making it the most ever during this season beating the record of four from last summer. Eleven films have already crossed the $50M mark and seven have or will reach the $100M hurdle. Plus, upcoming releases like There's Something About Mary, The Mask of Zorro, and Saving Private Ryan are strong contenders for one or both of those clubs. A steady stream of hits is making this summer into the biggest on record.

Compared to my projections, Lethal Weapon 4 was stronger than expected surging past my $25M forecast. Small Soldiers came in under my $18M prediction and Madeline was a little better than my $5M projection. Holdovers Armageddon and Doctor Dolittle earned close to my forecasts of $22M and $13M respectively.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which appears each Wednesday. This week looks back at the weekend of July 7 - 9, 1989 when Lethal Weapon 2 debuted at number one. This Wednesday's new column will feature a report on box office champ Mel Gibson. For reviews of Lethal Weapon 4 and other new releases visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

And don't forget to voice your opinion in this week's new Reader Survey on re-releases. In last week's survey, readers were asked to cast the next heroine in Scream 3. Leading the way was Christina Ricci with 555 votes, followed by Katie Holmes (445), Liv Tyler (444), Alicia Silverstone (290), and Brandy (127).

The top ten films grossed $112.9M which was up 19% from last year when Men in Black stayed at number one with $30.1M, and up 11% from 1996 when Independence Day remained on top with $35.2M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's activity which will see The Mask of Zorro take on There's Something About Mary.

Below are final studio figures for the weekend. Click on the title to jump to its official home page:

# Title July 10 - 12 July 3 - 5 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Lethal Weapon 4 $ 34,048,124 3,117 1 $ 10,923 $ 34,048,124 WB
2 Armageddon 23,557,064 36,089,972 -34.7 3,136 2 7,512 99,860,537 BV
3 Small Soldiers 14,047,592 2,539 1 5,533 14,047,592 DreamWorks
4 Doctor Dolittle 12,877,547 19,675,651 -34.6 2,869 3 4,489 89,189,379 Fox
5 Mulan 7,024,607 11,476,524 -38.8 2,756 4 2,549 91,853,254 BV
6 Madeline 6,414,668 1,863 1 3,443 6,414,668 Sony
7 The X Files 3,871,798 6,253,038 -38.1 1,909 4 2,028 74,549,379 Fox
8 Out of Sight 3,813,425 6,578,475 -42.0 1,981 3 1,925 29,981,440 Universal
9 Six Days, Seven Nights 3,695,598 5,805,699 -36.3 1,961 5 1,885 63,686,260 BV
10 The Truman Show 3,576,418 6,008,506 -40.5 2,186 6 1,636 116,218,533 Paramount
11 A Perfect Murder 1,642,140 3,335,890 -50.8 1,401 6 1,172 64,406,195 WB
12 Hope Floats 1,067,207 1,603,563 -33.4 842 7 1,267 54,082,405 Fox
13 Everest (IMAX) 1,045,175 1,108,791 -5.7 60 19 17,420 26,571,106 Freeman
14 The Horse Whisperer 832,256 1,341,274 -38.0 670 9 1,242 70,617,622 BV
15 City of Angels 717,650 60,231 1091.5 715 14 1,004 76,637,077 WB
16 Gone with the Wind 576,999 898,275 -35.8 214 3 2,696 3,981,400 New Line
17 The Opposite of Sex 486,360 501,537 -3.0 183 8 2,658 3,245,914 Sony Classics
18 Titanic 405,669 623,930 -35.0 463 30 876 588,931,878 Paramount
19 Deep Impact 352,195 779,792 -54.8 602 10 585 137,891,161 Paramount
20 Smoke Signals 289,532 215,328 34.5 32 3 9,048 681,331 Miramax
Top 5 $ 91,554,934 $ 80,073,660 14.3
Top 10 112,926,841 98,168,592 15.0
Top 20 120,342,024 104,422,534 15.2

    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.

Last Updated : July 14, 1998 at 1:00AM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya