Weekend Box Office (July 17 - 19, 1998)

** Read the NEW Weekly Rewind column **

THIS WEEKEND En garde! Zorro lunged his way to the top of the box office with a strong $22.5M debut, according to final studio figures. The Sony adventure film, starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, made its mark in 2,515 locations uncovering a solid $8,957 per-theater average. The Mask of Zorro gave the studio its second best opening of 1998 (after Godzilla's $44M in May) and its third number one film of the year after The Big Hit and the lizard pic. For Banderas, it was his strongest debut in a starring role beating 1995's Assassins which arrived with $9.4M. The Spanish actor also was in Interview with the Vampire which opened with $36.4M, but only had a supporting role. Zorro gave Hopkins his second largest opening after Bram Stoker's Dracula which debuted with $30.5M.

The vampire boys provided considerable starpower to Zorro contributing to its impressive opening. With a mixture of swashbuckling adventure, romance, and a historical backdrop, the Martin Campbell-directed film connected with a wide range of moviegoers. Its Saturday uptick of 13% indicates that Zorro (budgeted at around $65M) should hold its ground over the weeks ahead. Sony will release The Mask of Zorro in Mexico next weekend, with Australia following in September, and much of Europe in October.

Jeff Blake, President of Sony Pictures Releasing, stated that "Zorro was one of the best reviewed big-scale movies of the summer and has performed very well in all segments." He noted that the audience has been about evenly split between males and females and covers a wide age group including strong matinee business with kids. Blake also said that The Mask of Zorro was particularly strong in areas with large Spanish-speaking populations like California and Texas.

Slipping a notch to second place was Lethal Weapon 4 with $21.7M in its sophomore frame. Off a reasonable 36%, the Gibson-Glover combo has managed to bank $71.7M in only ten days of release. The last installment of the profitable Warner Bros. franchise, Lethal Weapon 3, opened with a near identical opening weekend as this year's new one and grossed $27.6M in its second weekend. However, that was a four-day Memorial Day weekend. When factoring out that Monday holiday, Lethal 4 was about even with Lethal 3 in their second weekends. At its current rate, this latest Weapon should be potent enough to reach the heights of its predecessors. Lethal Weapon 2 earned $147.2M while Lethal Weapon 3 took in $144.6M domestically.

Showing it still has plenty of fuel in its booster rockets, Armageddon took third place with $16.6M, down just 30%, shooting its cume to $129.1M. On Friday it became the highest-grossing Bruce Willis film ever surpassing the $115.3M domestic tally of Die Hard 2. Armageddon should also be able to top Die Hard 3's $354M worldwide gross to become the actor's top global release. The asteroid adventure is now within striking distance of Deep Impact's $138.1M and is set to become the top-selling new release of 1998 next weekend.

Disney must be delighted with the powerful staying power of Armageddon. Most big-budget special-effects pictures depreciate at a higher rate in their first few weeks. Armageddon is still running at the same pace as last summer's Air Force One which went on to gross $172.6M. Add in the extra $18.2M Armageddon earned on its first Wednesday and Thursday, and it is clear that the Bruce Willis thrill ride is headed for the $180-190M range. If it can reach this level, it will become the highest-grossing live action film in Disney's history, unseating 1990's Pretty Woman which took in $178M.

A charming new face entered the charts at number four. The Fox comedy There's Something About Mary collected $13.7M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Opening in 2,186 venues, the Farrelly brothers laugher averaged a very good $6,286 per theater and has grossed $17.8M since its Wednesday opening. Starring Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, and Matt Dillon, Mary is a romantic comedy from the directing team notorious for crude, but painfully funny, humor. Previous movies by the Farrelly brothers include the Jim Carrey smash Dumb and Dumber which opened at number one in December 1994 with $16.4M, and Kingpin which debuted in fourth place in July 1996 with just $5.6M. With Cameron Diaz and the romantic storyline, Fox was hoping to reach beyond the core male audience for this comedy. Mary's legs are worth watching since the film has been showered with rave reviews which could lead to strong word-of-mouth over the coming weeks.

Champagne was flowing at Eddie Murphy's home this weekend as both of his current films crossed the $100M mark in the last 48 hours. Rounding out the top five was Doctor Dolittle with a healthy $9.5M which pushed its total to $105.4M. The remake of the classic film of a doctor who can talk to the animals hit the milestone on Saturday in its 23rd day of release. Dolittle ended a rather long drought for Fox as it was the studio's first $100M blockbuster since the Star Wars re-release from two winters ago. Factoring out reissues, Dolittle is the first new film by Fox to reach the sacred barrier since Independence Day from 1996. So far, Doctor Dolittle is 12.5% ahead of the pace of The Nutty Professor and should finish with about $140M. That Eddie Murphy comedy needed 30 days to hit $100M in ticket sales.

Murphy's other performance, playing the little dragon Mushu in Disney's animated hit Mulan, hit the $100M threshold on Sunday - its 31st day of release. With $101.3M, Mulan became the studio's first such blockbuster since last summer's George of the Jungle. Mulan has already outdistanced the last two summer animated films from Disney (Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and looks headed for $120M or so. For Eddie Murphy, Doctor Dolittle and Mulan represented the actor's fifth and sixth $100M domestic grossers. His others are Beverly Hills Cop ($235M), Beverly Hills Cop II ($154M), The Nutty Professor ($129M), and Coming to America ($128M).

Sophomore holdovers had varying results over the weekend. Small Soldiers dropped 38% to $8.6M pushing its 10 day gross to $30.3M. The attacking toy flick achieved good midweek business and a decent hold in its second weekend. Its final tally should be around $50-60M, about what the film cost to produce. Madeline eased by just 32% in its second try and now stands with $15.3M. The Sony kidpic should find its way to about $30M.

For only the second time in box office history, the top ten films racked up over $100M in ticket sales over two consecutive weekends. The other time was during the first two weekends of Independence Day in 1996. So far the summer box office has given birth to six $100M-grossing hits with Lethal Weapon 4 and Saving Private Ryan likely to make it eight. By comparison, the last two summer seasons produced nine such blockbusters each.

Titanic added numerous dollar runs over the weekend and added an extra $1.3M into its treasure chest which now stands at $590.5M. The maritime romance needs another $9.5M to hit the elusive $600M domestic mark which would give the film a splendid finish to a historic box office run. At its current rate, $600M is still achievable, but will still take weeks to reach. After seven months of release, Titanic has yet to sail out of the top twenty.

Compared to my projections, The Mask of Zorro performed as expected as its $22.5M gross was close to my $22M forecast. There's Something About Mary was not as popular as I had expected and did not reach the $17M three-day gross I projected. Lethal Weapon 4 and Armageddon dropped less than the 40% and 35% I predicted. Sophomores Small Soldiers and Madeline declined close to my projections of 40% and 35%.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which features a box office report on Mel Gibson. This Wednesday's Rewind column will focus on the Top 25 Disney Movies of the 1990s. For a review of Zorro, visit Chief's Movie Review Page. And don't forget to voice your opinion in this week's new Reader Survey on Saving Private Ryan and Armageddon.

The top ten films grossed $106.3M which was up 14% from last year when Men in Black stayed at number one with $19M, and up 45% from 1996 when Independence Day remained on top with $21.3M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for the upcoming weekend when Hollywood titans Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks wage war on moviegoers with Saving Private Ryan.

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

# Title July 17 - 19 July 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 The Mask of Zorro $ 22,525,855 2,515 1 $ 8,957 $ 22,525,855 Sony
2 Lethal Weapon 4 21,727,030 34,048,124 -36.2 3,117 2 6,970 71,742,154 WB
3 Armageddon 16,591,782 23,557,064 -29.6 3,184 3 5,211 129,134,246 BV
4 There's Something About Mary 13,740,644 2,186 1 6,286 17,797,481 Fox
5 Doctor Dolittle 9,478,938 12,877,547 -26.4 2,805 4 3,379 105,382,410 Fox
6 Small Soldiers 8,647,913 14,047,592 -38.4 2,613 2 3,310 30,316,347 DreamWorks
7 Mulan 4,914,002 7,024,607 -30.0 2,283 5 2,152 101,272,675 BV
8 Madeline 4,381,140 6,414,668 -31.7 1,863 2 2,352 15,333,817 Sony
9 The Truman Show 2,172,376 3,576,418 -39.3 1,540 7 1,411 120,028,048 Paramount
10 Six Days, Seven Nights 2,103,213 3,695,598 -43.1 1,416 6 1,485 67,540,659 BV
11 Out of Sight 2,044,915 3,813,425 -46.4 1,430 4 1,430 33,733,865 Universal
12 The X Files 2,003,326 3,871,798 -48.3 1,451 5 1,381 78,261,565 Fox
13 Titanic 1,337,493 405,669 229.7 867 31 1,543 590,489,873 Paramount
14 Everest (IMAX) 1,041,961 1,045,175 -0.3 61 20 17,081 28,445,649 Freeman
15 A Perfect Murder 848,372 1,642,140 -48.3 947 7 896 65,987,219 WB
16 Hope Floats 727,138 1,067,207 -31.9 653 8 1,114 55,406,383 Fox
17 The Horse Whisperer 547,928 832,256 -34.2 493 10 1,111 71,622,529 BV
18 City of Angels 389,187 717,650 -45.8 604 15 644 77,503,130 WB
19 The Opposite of Sex 383,136 486,360 -21.2 174 9 2,202 3,918,500 Sony Classics
20 Smoke Signals 380,123 289,532 31.3 66 4 5,759 1,204,834 Miramax
Top 5 $ 84,064,249 $ 91,554,934 -8.2
Top 10 106,282,893 112,926,841 -5.9
Top 20 115,986,472 120,342,024 -3.6

    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 20, 1998 at 8:30PM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya