Weekend Box Office (July 24 - 26, 1998)

** Read the Weekly Rewind column **

THIS WEEKEND Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks brought in the heavy box office artillery with the war drama Saving Private Ryan which opened at number one capturing $30.6M in ticket sales from civilians according to final studio figures. DreamWorks, which saw its biggest opening ever, marched its troops into 2,463 locations and earned a devastating $12,414 average per theater - the best of any new wide release since The Truman Show's $13,625. Ryan gave Oscar-winner Tom Hanks the best opening of his career edging out Toy Story's $29.1M. The film also beat the debuts of Hanks' other recent movies Apollo 13, which opened with $25.4M, and 1994's Forrest Gump which debuted with $24.5M.

The powerful opening of Saving Private Ryan is remarkable considering the picture runs nearly three hours and depicts some of the most graphically violent battle scenes ever filmed making it unsuitable for many moviegoers. Also, prints delivered late to some theaters on Friday put a small dent into that day's grosses. However, the starpower of Hanks and Spielberg (along with co-stars Edward Burns, Matt Damon, and Tom Sizemore) attracted hordes of movie patrons and the praise from critics strengthened its box office appeal. After a summer full of special effects and weak stories, the time was perfect for a quality picture that was emotionally moving. Saving Private Ryan is powerful enough to bring the mightiest of men to tears.

For Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg, a number one opening is nothing new. Saving Private Ryan stands as the filmmaker's fifth biggest debut behind last year's The Lost World ($92.7M), 1993's Jurassic Park ($50.2M), 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ($37M), and 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ($33.9M). The grosses for The Lost World and the two Indy pics were four-day holiday openings. In its first full week, Saving Private Ryan should be able to earn more than Spielberg's last film grossed in its entire run. Last December's Amistad took in $44.2M at domestic turnstiles. Ryan begins its international assault in the fall through the film's other producer, Paramount Pictures.

Rave reviews and positive word-of-mouth should propel this picture to stratospheric box office heights in the coming months. Weekly depreciations are likely to be small for Ryan and it should cross the $100M mark as early as next week. Movie theaters will cash in tremendously from the Tom Hanks film since it will still provide strong sales many weeks into its run when theaters keep a higher percentage of the gross. Plus, the long running-time is an incentive for moviegoers to stock up at the highly profitable concession stands.

Jim Tharp, president of distribution at DreamWorks SKG, said that "Saving Private Ryan played very well in small and large markets alike and the male/female split was roughly 50/50". The war drama opened higher than company expectations, performed slightly better with the over-25 age group, and saw a 17% boost on Saturday from Friday. DreamWorks launched its campaign with 3,600 prints in 2,463 cinemas as it was important for the distributor to book multiple auditoriums in its strategy to conquer the box office. Tharp noted that exit polls show that ticket buyers are rating Ryan "excellent" or "very good" and that the movie should play well into the fall.

Overall, the weekend box office was robust with Private Ryan leading the charge. Five films grossed over $10M each. The last time this occured was Thanksgiving weekend 1996 when 101 Dalmatians, Star Trek: First Contact, Space Jam, Jingle All The Way, and Ransom all posted Friday-to-Sunday grosses of over $10M. Also, for the first time in box office history, the top ten films grossed over $100M for three consecutive weekends. This summer will surely be the biggest on record.

Slipping a notch to second place, The Mask of Zorro whipped its way to a $13.4M take. Down a decent 40% from its debut frame, Zorro has minted $47.3M in ten days. By comparison, 1995's July action picture Waterworld had similar three-day and ten-day grosses of $21.2M and $45.6M respectively and went on to soak up $88.2M domestically. Expect a similar outcome for Zorro as it swashbuckles its way to about $90M.

Down 40% to third place, Lethal Weapon 4 rang up $13.1M in ticket sales in its third lap. With $94.6M in the bank, the Warner Bros. franchise pic should shoot through the $100M barrier by Friday. Staying put at number four was the Fox comedy There's Something About Mary which enjoyed a spectacular sophomore weekend as it was off a tiny 9% from last weekend. With $12.5M, the Farrelly brothers grossfest was a crowdpleaser and is shaping up to be the summer's most durable film. During midweek business, Mary was second only to Zorro and on Thursday she was the nation's top film. Mary has pocketed a healthy $40.9M already, and has her eyes on reaching $100M in the weeks ahead. If it stays this strong, the Cameron Diaz starrer will have no problem joining the other summer blockbusters and will bring the total of films grossing over $100M to nine for the season.

Rounding out the top five, Buena Vista's Armageddon earned $11.2M pushing its cume to $149.6M. That makes it the highest-grossing new release of 1998, beating Deep Impact, and the second highest-grossing movie of the last eleven months behind Titanic. Armageddon currently stands as the fourth best live-action picture for its studio behind Pretty Woman ($178M), Three Men and A Baby ($168M), and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? ($154M). The Bruce Willis space adventure has a great chance of outperforming all of those titles.

Two new films debuted unimpressively below the top five. MGM's teen thriller Disturbing Behavior debuted with $7.1M in 1,842 labs for a disappointing $3,839 average. Starring Katie Holmes of the hit teen television drama Dawson's Creek, Behavior was trying to tap into the huge audience that made the Scream films and I Know What You Did Last Summer such big hits. Instead, Behavior failed to connect with its target demographic in its freshman frame and actually declined on Saturday compared to Friday signaling a quick theatrical playoff. Fortunately for MGM, Disturbing Behavior is a relatively inexpensive movie so it does not need huge grosses to break even.

Opening in eighth place was the mobster spoof Mafia! which collected $6.6M. Laughing it up in 1,942 houses, Mafia! scored just $3,387 per theater. Clearly, moviegoers were getting their chuckles from There's Something About Mary instead of Mafia! With Saturday sales even with Friday's, expect this comedy to be six feet under very soon.

Below the top ten, Imax heavyweight Everest continued to scale new box office heights as it enjoyed its fifth consecutive weekend of ticket sales over $1 million. Its cume has elevated to an astounding $30.3M with no sign of slowing and is only playing in 62 cinemas. Another steady performance was delivered by the mother of all movies, Titanic. Moviegoers are rushing to catch the tragic romantic epic one last time on the big screen before it sails to home video in September. With $593.2M in its treasure chest, Titanic is closing in on the never-before-reached $600M domestic mark. The James Cameron Oscar magnet has collected an astounding $1.77 billion in worldwide theatrical sales including over $175M in Japan alone.

Opening in limited release, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss from Trimark smooched up $117,089 in 13 sites for a good $9,007 average. After a two-week exclusive run in New York, Darren Aronofsky's mathematical indie thriller Pi summed up $147,608 in 10 locations for a sharp $14,761 average. Miramax's Smoke Signals is still running strong as it expands into new markets each week keeping it at number twenty for the fourth straight weekend. Now showing in 115 theaters, Smoke Signals has already grossed an impressive $1.8M.

Compared to my projections, Saving Private Ryan performed a bit stronger than my $26M forecast. Disturbing Behavior failed to reach my bullish prediction of $13M while Mafia! was on par with my $7M projection.

Be sure to read the NEW Weekly Rewind column which features a report on the top August openings of the decade. For a review of Saving Private Ryan visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

And don't forget to voice your opinion in this week's new Reader Survey on summer sequels. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Armageddon or Saving Private Ryan would become the top-grossing summer title. Out of 4,148 responses, 45.4% said Armageddon, 36.5% said Ryan, and 18.1% said neither.

The top ten films grossed $110.6M which was up 9% from last year when Air Force One flew into the number one spot with $37.1M, and up 64% from 1996 when A Time To Kill debuted on top with $14.8M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's busy frame which will see the launches of The Negotiator, The Parent Trap, BASEketball, and Ever After.

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

# Title July 24 - 26 July 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Saving Private Ryan $ 30,576,104 2,463 1 $ 12,414 $ 30,576,104 DreamWorks
2 The Mask of Zorro 13,414,229 22,525,855 -40.4 2,515 2 5,334 47,269,464 Sony
3 Lethal Weapon 4 13,143,811 21,727,030 -39.5 3,117 3 4,217 94,605,847 WB
4 There's Something About Mary 12,540,472 13,740,644 -8.7 2,118 2 5,921 40,904,733 Fox
5 Armageddon 11,159,371 16,591,782 -32.7 3,127 4 3,569 149,607,826 BV
6 Doctor Dolittle 7,297,205 9,478,938 -23.0 2,509 5 2,908 117,965,240 Fox
7 Disturbing Behavior 7,070,714 1,842 1 3,839 7,070,714 MGM/UA
8 Mafia! 6,577,961 1,942 1 3,387 6,577,961 BV
9 Small Soldiers 5,317,546 8,647,913 -38.5 2,512 3 2,117 40,491,053 DreamWorks
10 Mulan 3,516,744 4,914,002 -28.4 1,705 6 2,063 108,138,500 BV
11 Madeline 2,736,110 4,381,140 -37.5 1,733 3 1,579 21,568,865 Sony
12 Titanic 1,476,279 1,337,493 10.4 839 32 1,760 593,234,448 Paramount
13 The Truman Show 1,017,723 2,172,376 -53.2 1,155 8 881 122,019,970 Paramount
14 Six Days, Seven Nights 1,011,938 2,103,213 -51.9 961 7 1,053 69,636,139 BV
15 Everest (IMAX) 1,010,823 1,041,961 -3.0 62 21 16,304 30,346,624 Freeman
16 The X Files 999,967 2,003,326 -50.1 955 6 1,047 80,326,680 Fox
17 Out of Sight 841,480 2,044,915 -58.9 772 5 1,090 35,553,675 Universal
18 Hope Floats 573,297 727,138 -21.2 593 9 967 56,411,981 Fox
19 A Perfect Murder 391,015 848,372 -53.9 353 8 1,108 66,748,019 WB
20 Smoke Signals 377,842 380,123 -0.6 115 5 3,286 1,775,662 Miramax
Top 5 $ 80,833,987 $ 84,064,249 -3.8
Top 10 110,614,157 106,282,893 4.1
Top 20 121,050,631 115,986,472 4.4

    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 27, 1998 at 8:15PM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya