Weekend Box Office (July 30 - August 1, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND Sizzling debuts for Julia Roberts' Runaway Bride and the independent smash The Blair Witch Project helped ignite the box office leading it to one of its biggest sessions on record. The top twenty films grossed a never-before-seen $151M as a brutal heat wave helped send hordes of people to their local air conditioned theater for relief.

Julia Roberts was showered with presents as moviegoers spent $35.1M, according to final studio figures, on the box office megastar's latest hit Runaway Bride vaulting it into the number one spot over the weekend. Sprinting into 3,158 theaters, the romantic comedy, which reunited her with Pretty Woman pals Richard Gere and director Garry Marshall, averaged a blushing $11,101 per chapel. Runaway Bride's enormous debut surpassed Notting Hill's $27.7M four-day holiday launch to give the A-list actress her biggest opening ever, and delivered the best bow for any romantic comedy. In addition, the Paramount release (which Buena Vista will handle overseas) walked down the aisle and grabbed the fifth-largest July debut in history benefiting from the most theaters ever for a July opener.

Once again proving how popular a star she is, Julia Roberts led Runaway Bride to a powerful launch that attracted a wide range of moviegoers and scored with the date crowd. Very few light-hearted offerings for adults in the marketplace certainly helped Bride run away from the pack to lead the field. Budgeted at $70M, the film experienced a modest 9% increase in sales on Saturday compared to Friday.

The most phenomenal event of the weekend occured in the runnerup spot as the indie sensation The Blair Witch Project exploded on the scene with a jaw-dropping $29.2M in its first weekend of wide release. The figure alone would be impressive for just about any film, but given the fact that this was a low-budget independent picture with no stars acquired for a measly $1.1M, and that only 1,101 theaters were showing it, the miraculous strength of the opening was cataclysmic. After two weeks of sell-outs in a small number of cities, Artisan offered The Blair Witch Project to most of North America and the momentum showed no signs of slowing. Its per-theater average this weekend was a staggering $26,528. By comparison, Friday-to-Sunday opening averages for The Lost World and Star Wars Episode I were $21,985 and $21,822 respectively.

Crucial to the enormous success of Witch was its creepy interactive web site which lured moviegoers into the mysterious tale over the last year. Plus the distribution of the film was brilliant as it gained lots of publicity in limited release which made the rest of the nation eager to see what all the fuss was about. By the second half of summer, people become sick of the same mainstream big-budget studio fare and start looking for something fresh and different. The Blair Witch Project saw a Friday-to-Saturday boost of 10% and will expand into another 1,000 theaters next weekend hoping to become the rarest of all film properties - a small movie shot for less than $100,000 that grosses $100,000,000 at the domestic box office. The Blair Witch Project is by far Artisan's highest-grossing film ever and solidifies the company's stature as one of the top distributors of independent fare in the business. Next weekend's hold will help determine the ultimate fate of the film as moviegoers spread the word on whether they liked it or not.

Director Renny Harlin's latest action-horror film Deep Blue Sea attacked moviegoers to the tune of $19.1M. The $60M killer shark film bowed in 2,854 locations and averaged a tasty $6,695 per bite. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, the Warner Bros. thriller delivered an opening that was better than the director's last two outings - 1996's The Long Kiss Goodnight (which also starred Jackson) and 1995's disaster Cutthroat Island which launched with $9.1M and $2.4M respectively. Since its Wednesday opening, Deep Blue Sea has taken in $25.2M and has been the beneficiary of many positive reviews from critics.

With over $83M being spent on those three new films, last weekend's champ The Haunting was scared off to fourth place with $15.3M. Tumbling 54% in its sophomore frame, the $80M DreamWorks suspense thriller has amassed $64M in ten days and looks to finish in the vicinity of $100M and could have a solid overseas campaign anchored by the international stars Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones plus the name recognition of director Jan De Bont.

Disney's Inspector Gadget fell a reasonable 35% to $14.1M in its sophomore frame to take fifth place. Starring Matthew Broderick as the live-action version of the popular cartoon character, the family comedy has nabbed an impressive $47.9M in only ten days and could be headed for $90-100M. Between Inspector Gadget and Tarzan, Disney has cornered the family film market this summer and should enjoy $250-275M worth of ticket sales between its two kidpics. Last summer, the Mouse House took in $187M for its animated/live-action duo of Mulan and The Parent Trap.

Universal continued to see a healthy turnout for its teen sex comedy American Pie which slipped 33% to $6.8M. With $77.2M in the bank, the low cost hit hopes to reach the $100M mark by the end of the month.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman watched the magic fade as their erotic drama Eyes Wide Shut once again plunged losing 57% of its audience to finish its third weekend with a poor $4.3M. The Stanley Kubrick-directed film has grossed $48.7M in 17 days but has crumbled faster than any other wide release so far this summer. A final tally of $55-60M looks likely for Eyes Wide Shut which cost about $65M to produce.

Sony's hit comedy Big Daddy starring Adam Sandler placed eighth with $3.6M which pushed its massive cume to $152.7M. The force was still with George Lucas as Star Wars Episode I spent its eleventh weekend in the top ten generating $3.4M in sales to push its domestic tally to a powerful $408.6M. By comparison, Titanic had collected $427M by the end of its eleventh weekend grossing $19.6M during that frame. Overseas, The Phantom Menace is approaching a $175M cume led by sizzling sales in Japan and the United Kingdom. The mighty prequel invades Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and Scandanavia later in August. The animated lord of the jungle, Tarzan, rounded out the top ten with $3M bringing its bounty to a hearty $158.4M.

Falling out of the top ten after two weeks was The Wood from Paramount Pictures which was produced for just $6M but will conclude its domestic run with an impressive $25-30M. Fox's Lake Placid has reached $26.6M and is set to bite off $30-35M before heading off to video stores everywhere.

Wild Wild West, one of the most expensive films of the summer, has grossed a disappointing $108.9M thus far and should end its domestic run with about $115-120M. That's less than half of the gross of 1997's Men in Black, the last Will Smith-Barry Sonnenfeld costly July event pic. Warners will need a much stronger international run in order to make this venture profitable. Already playing in Brazil, Germany, and Singapore, Wild Wild West strolls into France, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom in the weeks ahead.

Compared to projections, Runaway Bride and The Blair Witch Project dashed ahead of my respective forecasts of $23M and $12M while Deep Blue Sea was very close to my $18M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Mission: Impossible 2. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of five August releases they were most looking forward to. Of 3,715 responses, 27% selected Bowfinger, 26% said The Sixth Sense, 23% voted for Mystery Men, 18% chose The Thirteenth Warrior, and 7% picked Teaching Mrs. Tingle.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which looks at the top August openings this decade. For a review of The Blair Witch Project visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $133.9M which was up 39% from last year when Saving Private Ryan remained at number one with $23.6M, and up 42% from 1997 when Air Force One reigned with $25.7M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when five new movies march into battle including Sixth Sense, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Iron Giant, Mystery Men, and Dick.

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

# Title Jul. 30 - Aug. 1 Jul. 23 - 25 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Runaway Bride $ 35,055,556 3,158 1 $ 11,101 $ 35,055,556 Paramount
2 The Blair Witch Project 29,207,381 1,978,171 1,101 3 26,528 36,140,299 Artisan
3 Deep Blue Sea 19,107,643 2,854 1 6,695 25,164,533 Warner Bros.
4 The Haunting 15,256,799 33,435,140 -54.4 2,864 2 5,327 63,966,505 DreamWorks
5 Inspector Gadget 14,131,868 21,889,138 -35.4 2,877 2 4,912 47,851,589 Buena Vista
6 American Pie 6,784,260 10,111,875 -32.9 2,436 4 2,785 77,159,480 Universal
7 Eyes Wide Shut 4,320,243 10,075,471 -57.1 2,264 3 1,908 48,652,355 Warner Bros.
8 Big Daddy 3,558,738 6,005,536 -40.7 2,288 6 1,555 152,661,284 Sony
9 Star Wars : Episode I 3,420,720 4,197,100 -18.5 1,628 11 2,101 408,597,032 Fox
10 Tarzan 3,035,186 4,879,671 -37.8 1,611 7 1,884 158,352,002 Buena Vista
11 Lake Placid 2,679,079 5,592,716 -52.1 1,798 3 1,490 26,606,388 Fox
12 The Wood 2,570,711 4,822,164 -46.7 1,052 3 2,444 20,594,390 Paramount
13 Wild Wild West 2,503,573 5,332,918 -53.1 2,151 5 1,164 108,878,844 Warner Bros.
14 The General's Daughter 2,284,984 3,811,527 -40.1 1,319 7 1,732 97,758,300 Paramount
15 Drop Dead Gorgeous 1,766,480 3,986,269 -55.7 1,207 2 1,464 7,991,044 New Line
16 Arlington Road 1,335,511 2,932,751 -54.5 861 4 1,551 22,242,239 Sony
17 Austin Powers 2 1,231,068 2,326,541 -47.1 1,056 8 1,166 198,003,561 New Line
18 South Park 902,152 2,283,767 -60.5 932 5 968 49,893,282 Paramount
19 Muppets From Space 887,582 2,210,971 -59.9 1,296 3 685 14,103,440 Sony
20 Notting Hill 884,995 1,603,710 -44.8 708 10 1,250 111,679,705 Universal
Top 5 $ 112,759,247 $ 81,517,160 38.3
Top 10 133,878,394 106,341,729 25.9
Top 20 150,924,529 129,731,973 16.3

    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 : August 2, 1999 at 10:00PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya