Weekend Box Office (July 16 - 18, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND Does sex sell? According to North American moviegoers it certainly does as the box office was led by a one-two punch of sex-themed films. The long-awaited drama Eyes Wide Shut premiered at the top of the charts while the raunchy teen pic American Pie enjoyed a strong second weekend hold taking the runnerup spot. A collection of other new films debuted throughout the top ten with mixed results giving the marketplace incredible breadth. Meanwhile, the independent film The Blair Witch Project cast a spell on moviegoers in selected cities attracting a huge turnout.

The late Stanley Kubrick's final motion picture arrived in theaters after years of production and became the most popular movie in the land over the weekend. Eyes Wide Shut, starring the husband-wife acting duo of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, grossed $21.7M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final figures, giving Cruise his sixth consecutive number one opening. Its opening weekend gross was over one million dollars less than the $22.8M that Warner Bros. had estimated on Sunday. The controversial film has raised eyebrows and grabbed headlines ever since it was announced that the acclaimed director of The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey would collaborate with the box office heavyweight who starred in Top Gun and Rain Man. This weekend moviegoers finally had the chance to see the psychosexual thriller for themselves and propelled it to number one. Playing in 2,411 locations, Eyes Wide Shut averaged a strong $9,003 per theater.

Warner Bros. estimated that the audience for the Stanley Kubrick film was slightly more female and that turnout among 18-25 year-olds was very strong proving that the picture's appeal was not limited to just older adults. The studio also noted that ticket sales over the weekend were somewhat affected by the John F. Kennedy Jr. tragedy which kept adults at home glued to their television sets for the latest news on the crash of his private plane. Still, Eyes Wide Shut's opening was impressive considering its R-rating, sophisticated subject matter, 160 minute length, and intense summer competition. In fact, the debut performance was similar to the $22.5M opening exactly one year ago of The Mask of Zorro which eventually grossed $94M domestically. Tom Cruise's last film, Jerry Maguire, opened in December 1996 with $17.1M and went on to gross $154M stateside and over $270M globally.

If Eyes Wide Shut can sustain a durable run in the weeks ahead, it might have a chance of becoming Tom Cruise's sixth consecutive $100M-grossing film following A Few Good Men, The Firm, Interview with the Vampire, Mission: Impossible, and Jerry Maguire for which he won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor. With upcoming films like Mission: Impossible 2 due in December, and Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, slated for Independence Day weekend next summer, there's no telling how long Cruise's streak could last.

American Pie, last weekend's virgin king, enjoyed a pleasurable sophomore frame with $13.6M in ticket sales. Off a commendable 28%, the Universal sex comedy watched its box office manhood rise to a potent $45.5M. American Pie's solid hold could be attributed to positive word-of-mouth as well as the enormous amount of press coverage the film received last week for its raunchy gross-out humor and how underage teens are battling theater security in order to see it. With its superb ten-day total, strong midweek sales, and the lengthy summer playperiod ahead, the $11M film stands a good chance of eventually grossing over $100M at the domestic box office giving Universal its third consecutive summer blockbuster after The Mummy and Notting Hill.

Fox's new suspense thriller Lake Placid opened with bite in third place with $11M in 2,096 theaters. Averaging a very good $5,236 per site, the David E. Kelley production stars Bill Pullman and Bridget Fonda searching for a killer crocodile in a small Maine town. Horror titles have been mostly absent from theaters over the last few months. Lake Placid capitalized on this drought by opening ahead of the next two scary pictures this summer - The Haunting and Deep Blue Sea.

Adam Sandler took fourth place with Big Daddy which grossed $10.4M in its fourth weekend of release bringing its cume to a mighty $134.5M. The $32M film is proving to be yet another highly-profitable comedy from the past year much like There's Something About Mary, Rush Hour, The Waterboy, the Austin Powers sequel, and American Pie. Big Daddy could be headed for a final domestic tally of $160-170M.

Will Smith and his posse strolled into fifth with Wild Wild West which lassoed $10.1M in its third try with ticket buyers. Down 40%, the expensive Warner Bros. film has pushed its cume to $94.1M in 19 days and hopes to cross the $100M barrier next weekend. Still, Wild Wild West is not performing as well as recent Fourth of July weekend event films have in the past and should finish its domestic run in the vicinity of $125M if it continues at its current pace.

Paramount saw a solid start from its comedic drama The Wood over the weekend as the film opened with $8.5M in a mere 1,191 sites. Its healthy per-theater average of $7,150 was the second-best in the top ten. The Wood, which stars Omar Epps and Taye Diggs, centers around a group of young men who reminisce about the days growing up in their middle class Inglewood, California neighborhood in the 1980's. The solid opening of the picture could be credited in part to the fact that films with a predominantly black cast rarely show up in theaters anymore, and those that do are usually vehicles for hip hop artists trying to be movie stars (i.e. Foolish, Belly, The Player's Club). The Wood offered a fun yet serious story for an audience that has been neglected by Hollywood and cashed in at the box office. With a production cost of only $6M, the Paramount/MTV Films offering will break even in no time.

Disney's Tarzan claimed seventh place with $7.5M in its fifth attack. The animated blockbuster has grossed a terrific $143M thus far, inching past the $141.6M cume of the studio's 1995 hit Pocahontas.

Eighth place was occupied by the year's most anticipated film, Star Wars Episode I, which collected $5.6M in its ninth, and possibly final, weekend in the top ten. After 61 days of release, the George Lucas-directed prequel has amassed a gargantuan $395.2M and continues to experience relatively low declines despite losing hundreds of screens to new summer fare. Next weekend, The Phantom Menace should cross the $400M mark after 66-68 days of play. Titanic currently holds the speed record as it hit that level in 66 days. Worldwide, Episode I is expected to cross the $500M threshold over the weekend powered by a record-smashing bow in the United Kingdom which brought in $14.8M over the Thursday-to-Sunday period.

John Travolta followed with The General's Daughter which commanded $5.2M putting its cume to date at $87.9M. Families weren't exactly going gonzo for Muppets in Space this weekend as the latest feature film in the aging franchise debuted with a mild $4.8M in sales. Bowing in 2,265 theaters, the Sony kidpic averaged only $2,131 per starship. Since its Wednesday opening, Muppets in Space has generated just $6.7M and was no match for films like Tarzan and Wild Wild West which young ones were more interested in seeing. Previous movies from the Jim Henson-created clan include 1996's Muppet Treasure Island ($7.9M opening/$34.3M total) and 1992's The Muppet Christmas Carol ($5M/$27.3M).

In the arthouse scene, Artisan saw explosive sales for its thriller The Blair Witch Project which cursed movie patrons in only 27 theaters but generated a boffo $1.5M. Playing only in the nation's top markets this weekend, Blair Witch generated a scorching average of $56,002 per site which bodes extremely well for its July 30th nationwide expansion. Film fans were intrigued by the picture which tracks three young filmmakers who disappear in the woods while documenting the legend of the Blair Witch.

A quartet of pictures fell from the top ten over the weekend. Austin Powers : The Spy Who Shagged Me, one of the most profitable movies of 1999, grossed $4.4M in its sixth weekend pushing its cume to a jaw-dropping $190.7M. Produced for only $33M, the comedy sequel should be able to finish its domestic run with about $200-210M and bring in tremendous amounts of revenue from overseas theatrical, worldwide home video, television rights, soundtrack, and merchandising. Already the highest-grossing film in the history of New Line Cinema, Austin Powers 2 also stands as the biggest comedy sequel and the fourth highest-grossing comedy of all time.

The critically-praised animated feature South Park collected $4.3M putting its sum to a very good $43.4M. With a $21M production cost, Paramount has yet another moneymaking toon on its hands and a final stateside tally of $52-57M looks possible. Sony's Arlington Road, after just a week of release, dropped to thirteenth place with $4.2M. The ten day total for the Jeff Bridges-Tim Robbins paranoid thriller is $14.7M and a final domestic gross of $25-28M seems likely.

Spike Lee's controversial drama Summer of Sam spent just two weeks in the top ten and plunged this weekend putting its total at $17.2M making a $20M final look likely for the Buena Vista release.

Also at the box office this weekend, Miramax's Shakespeare in Love came within $15,000 of hitting the magical $100M mark after seven months of release. The Oscar-winning romantic comedy benefited from a steady push from its distributor which launched new ad campaigns and boosted screens in late May and earlier this month in order to help it reach nine digits. Shakespeare in Love will become only the fifth film in Miramax history to reach the $100M mark following Good Will Hunting, Pulp Fiction and the two Scream films. The Gwenyth Paltrow hit will reach $100M in domestic sales on Monday, its 221st day of release, bringing its global purse to more than $275M.

Compared to projections, Eyes Wide Shut came in below my $30M forecast while American Pie was very close to my $13M prediction. Lake Placid and The Wood opened better than my $6M and $5M projections, respectively, while Muppets in Space debuted two notches lower than my $7M forecast.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Star Wars Episode I. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Eyes Wide Shut would open with at least $30M. Of 3,039 responses, 60% voted yes while 40% correctly chose no.

Interested in independent films? Then visit the official site for a feature film I'm currently producing called American Born Confused Desi which began shooting earlier this month.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which looks at the box office track record of Tom Cruise, and the NEW All-Time Domestic Blockbuster section. For a review of Eyes Wide Shut visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $98.4M which was down 7% from last year when The Mask of Zorro opened at number one with $22.5M, but up 5% from 1997 when Men in Black remained on top for the third straight weekend with $19M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Haunting and Inspector Gadget descend upon theaters.

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

# Title July 16 - 18 July 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Eyes Wide Shut $ 21,706,163 2,411 1 $ 9,003 $ 21,706,163 Warner Bros.
2 American Pie 13,559,430 18,709,680 -27.5 2,518 2 5,385 45,522,645 Universal
3 Lake Placid 10,974,145 2,096 1 5,236 10,974,145 Fox
4 Big Daddy 10,416,407 16,030,412 -35.0 3,254 4 3,201 134,480,100 Sony
5 Wild Wild West 10,063,277 16,834,042 -40.2 3,342 3 3,011 94,076,486 Warner Bros.
6 The Wood 8,515,223 1,191 1 7,150 8,515,223 Paramount
7 Tarzan 7,535,288 10,811,295 -30.3 2,838 5 2,655 142,973,292 Buena Vista
8 Star Wars : Episode I 5,647,641 7,491,397 -24.6 1,850 9 3,053 395,201,250 Fox
9 The General's Daughter 5,202,549 7,929,825 -34.4 2,258 5 2,304 87,907,277 Paramount
10 Muppets in Space 4,826,049 2,265 1 2,131 6,686,522 Sony
11 Austin Powers 2 4,369,129 6,827,232 -36.0 2,090 6 2,090 190,699,168 New Line
12 South Park 4,322,888 7,062,131 -38.8 2,008 3 2,153 43,395,740 Paramount
13 Arlington Road 4,187,567 7,515,145 -44.3 1,631 2 2,567 14,704,862 Sony
14 Notting Hill 2,105,740 3,015,885 -30.2 1,183 8 1,780 107,111,680 Universal
15 An Ideal Husband 1,723,991 2,294,927 -24.9 753 5 2,289 11,897,612 Miramax
16 The Blair Witch Project 1,512,054 27 1 56,002 1,572,173 Artisan
17 Summer of Sam 1,466,779 3,466,010 -57.7 1,068 3 1,373 17,229,840 Buena Vista
18 The Mummy 632,195 867,505 -27.1 557 11 1,135 150,744,850 Universal
19 Entrapment 419,927 398,179 5.5 546 12 769 85,612,809 Fox
20 Run Lola Run 402,705 346,981 16.1 99 5 4,068 2,244,261 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 66,719,422 $ 70,315,254 -5.1
Top 10 98,446,172 102,677,169 -4.1
Top 20 119,589,147 112,053,819 6.7

    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 19, 1999 at 9:00PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya