Weekend Box Office (July 23 - 25, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND A pair of new films injected $55M into the box office as The Haunting and Inspector Gadget, neither of which was a favorite with critics, generated solid openings. For the seventh consecutive weekend, a freshman movie debuted at number one making The Phantom Menace the last title to repeat at the top spot. Meanwhile, Eyes Wide Shut was blinded by the competiton and milestones were achieved by Wild Wild West ($100M), Tarzan ($150M), and Star Wars Episode I ($400M).

Moviegoers were looking to be scared this weekend as North American audiences spent $33.4M, according to final figures, on director Jan De Bont's The Haunting which easily claimed the number one spot. The suspense thriller stars Liam Neeson, fresh from his heroic turn in The Phantom Menace, and Catherine Zeta-Jones whose starpower has been boiling with The Mask of Zorro and Entrapment. Opening in 2,808 haunted houses, the $80M DreamWorks pic averaged a fantastic $11,907 per theater and broke the company's opening weekend record set exactly one year ago when Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan launched with $30.6M.

DreamWorks distribution president Jim Tharp noted that the audience was comprised largely of young men and women under 25 and that the powerful opening surpassed the studio's pre-release expectations. The Haunting saw only a modest increase in sales on Saturday compared to Friday which may indicate that word-of-mouth may not be that strong. Still, the $33.4M launch was surprisingly potent and could lead to a respectable worldwide gross.

With his bionic legs, Disney's Inspector Gadget was able to secure a superb opening capturing $21.9M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Fighting crime in 2,814 theaters, the live-action remake of the 1980s cartoon series averaged a stellar $7,779 per precinct. Starring Matthew Broderick as the bumbling detective, Inspector Gadget performed better than Disney's last two July live-action remakes - 1997's George of the Jungle and last year's The Parent Trap - which had Friday-to-Sunday debuts of $16.1M and $11.1M respectively. According to Buena Vista distribution chief Chuck Viane, Inspector Gadget is reaching a broad audience as moviegoers between the ages of 12 and 17 accounted for 15% of the opening weekend audience while evening showings are attracting huge crowds.

Enjoying the lowest decline in the top ten, the teen sex comedy American Pie eased just 25% to third with $10.1M in its third weekend. Universal's low-cost hit has now raked in a stupendous $64.5M in only 17 days and looks destined to join the $100M club next month making it the first teen pic to reach that mark since the Scream flicks.

After debuting at number one last weekend, Stanley Kubrick's final film Eyes Wide Shut got clobbered in its second try with moviegoers tumbling 54% to $10.1M. Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the erotic drama raised its ten-day tally to $40.3M. It was unclear after its opening whether or not the Warner Bros. film would have legs at the box office but its steep decline this weekend indicates that ticket buyers are not encouraging others to go and see the movie. Kubrick has always been known to make films that are not for mass consumption but instead for those with discriminating tastes thus narrowing their commercial appeal. If it continues to lose business like this, Eyes Wide Shut may find its way to a final domestic gross of $60-70M giving Cruise his lowest-grossing film since the last collaboration with his wife, 1992's Far and Away, and will put an end to his record streak of five consecutive $100M blockbusters.

Adam Sandler placed fifth with the hit comedy Big Daddy which grossed $6M allowing its blockbuster cume to rise to $146M. Fox's horror entry Lake Placid lost about half of its audience in its sophomore session as it collected $5.6M taking sixth place. Biting down on $21.4M in ten days, the crocodile pic should conclude with $30-35M.

Crumbling 47% in its fourth shootout, Wild Wild West took in $5.3M and hit the $100M on Friday, its 24th day of release. With $104.1M in sales so far, the costly Warner Bros. event pic should top out at around $115-120M. Disney's Tarzan followed in eighth with $4.9M pushing its muscular summer total to $152.5M thus far. Omar Epps and Taye Diggs saw their flashback comedy The Wood drop 43% to ninth with $4.8M. With $16.4M in ten days, the Paramount release should end up with about $30-35M.

Rounding out the top ten was the year's biggest blockbuster, Star Wars Episode I, with $4.2M in its tenth weekend. The long-awaited prequel crossed the $400M mark on Saturday, its 67th day of release and finished the frame with $402.8M. By comparison, the all-time box office champ Titanic had grossed a similar $402.6M by the end of its tenth weekend but was only two-thirds completed with what would be a spectacular theatrical run. James Cameron's Oscar magnet reached the $400M level in 66 days - a day faster than Anakin and pals. The Phantom Menace also surpassed E.T. to claim the number three spot on the all-time blockbuster list behind the ship of dreams and the original Star Wars which grossed $461M including all rereleases. Episode I continues to suffer moderate declines of about 25-30% each week and looks capable of concluding its domestic run in the vicinity of $425M.

New Line's satirical comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous about battling beauty contest competitors in Minnesota attracted a small audience and grossed $4M. Opening in the number eleven spot in 1,207 theaters, the Denise Richards-Kirsten Dunst starrer averaged just $3,303 per runway.

Paramount's murder mystery The General's Daughter collected $3.8M pushing its cume to an impressive $94.1M. The John Travolta hit should eventually become the fourth $100M blockbuster for the actor this decade and the seventh of his career.

The Blair Witch Project once again was selling out shows in selected cities as the Artisan release grossed a brilliant $2M in only 31 theaters. That gave the horror pic a scorching average of $63,812 per theater which improved upon the $56,002 average it achieved last weekend in four less locations. Movies simply don't make this kind of money in so few theaters but The Blair Witch Project has been riding an unbelievable wave of buzz that has positioned it as the must-see underground film of the summer. On Friday, Artisan unleashes the film in about 1,000 theaters nationwide hoping to scare the living daylights out of horror fans and box office analysts alike.

Compared to projections, The Haunting and Inspector Gadget both powered past my respective forecasts of $20M and $14M. Drop Dead Gorgeous failed to reach my $7M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the upcoming August releases. In last week's survey, readers were asked how Star Wars Episode I has performed at the box office compared to their expectations. Of 3,162 responses, 26% chose Better Than Expected, 53% said As Expected, and 21% selected Worse Than Expected.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which looks back at the box office in 1994. For a review of The Haunting visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $106.3M which was down 4% from last year when Saving Private Ryan opened at number one with $30.6M, but up 5% from 1997 when Air Force One premiered on top with $37.1M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Runaway Bride and Deep Blue Sea debut and The Blair Witch Project expands into national release.

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

# Title July 23 - 25 July 16 - 18 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 The Haunting $ 33,435,140 2,808 1 $ 11,907 $ 33,435,140 DreamWorks
2 Inspector Gadget 21,889,138 2,814 1 7,779 21,889,138 Buena Vista
3 American Pie 10,111,875 13,559,430 -25.4 2,544 3 3,975 64,510,470 Universal
4 Eyes Wide Shut 10,075,471 21,706,163 -53.6 2,483 2 4,058 40,272,213 Warner Bros.
5 Big Daddy 6,005,536 10,416,407 -42.3 2,904 5 2,068 146,010,854 Sony
6 Lake Placid 5,592,716 10,974,145 -49.0 2,101 2 2,662 21,370,207 Fox
7 Wild Wild West 5,332,918 10,063,277 -47.0 3,045 4 1,751 104,113,824 Warner Bros.
8 Tarzan 4,879,671 7,535,288 -35.2 2,281 6 2,139 152,518,073 Buena Vista
9 The Wood 4,822,164 8,515,223 -43.4 1,191 2 4,049 16,350,586 Paramount
10 Star Wars : Episode I 4,197,100 5,647,641 -25.7 1,615 10 2,599 402,770,726 Fox
11 Drop Dead Gorgeous 3,986,269 1,207 1 3,303 3,986,269 New Line
12 The General's Daughter 3,811,527 5,202,549 -26.7 1,668 6 2,285 94,063,222 Paramount
13 Arlington Road 2,932,751 4,187,567 -30.0 1,503 3 1,951 19,607,990 Sony
14 Austin Powers 2 2,326,541 4,369,129 -46.8 1,376 7 1,691 195,690,074 New Line
15 South Park 2,283,767 4,322,888 -47.2 1,410 4 1,620 47,933,255 Paramount
16 Muppets From Space 2,210,971 4,826,049 -54.2 2,265 2 976 11,843,522 Sony
17 The Blair Witch Project 1,978,171 1,512,054 30.8 31 2 63,812 5,039,324 Artisan
18 Notting Hill 1,603,710 2,105,740 -23.8 927 9 1,730 109,927,965 Universal
19 An Ideal Husband 1,389,562 1,723,991 -19.4 613 6 2,267 14,184,900 Miramax
20 The Mummy 866,975 632,195 37.1 680 12 1,275 152,026,790 Universal
Top 5 $ 81,517,160 $ 66,719,422 22.2
Top 10 106,341,729 98,446,172 8.0
Top 20 129,731,973 119,589,147 8.5

    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 26, 1999 at 9:00PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya