Weekend Box Office (August 6 - 8, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND Traffic at North American theaters remained extremely busy as The Sixth Sense led a box office field that saw three $20M+ grossers and six $10M+ pics. Five new wide releases hit the marketplace over the weekend with some posting moderate business while others disappointed. For the second consecutive weekend, moviegoers spent over $130M on the top ten films delivering the biggest August frame in history.

Bruce Willis took charge at the box office with his latest suspense thriller The Sixth Sense which opened powerfully at number one with $26.7M, according to final studio figures, breaking the August opening weekend record and giving the A-list star the second-best debut of his career. Harrison Ford's The Fugitive had previously held the monthly opening benchmark for six years with its $23.8M bow in 2,370 theaters in 1993. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense features Willis as a child psychologist who tends to a young boy who can sense the dead. The Buena Vista film's opening surged past the bows of some recent Willis films like The Siege ($13.9M), Mercury Rising ($10.1M), The Jackal ($15.2M), and The Fifth Element ($17M).

The launch of The Sixth Sense was quite remarkable in that it achieved a very strong opening while playing in only 2,161 theaters which is relatively low today for a big film with a big star backed by a big studio. A very crowded marketplace made it difficult for any of the new films to secure a huge amount of theaters and made double-screening at multiplexes hard as well. Its per-theater average of $12,347 was the best in the top ten even edging out fellow creepy pic The Blair Witch Project. Audiences continue to spend feverishly on chillers as The Sixth Sense follows the solid debuts of Blair Witch, The Haunting, and Deep Blue Sea. Buena Vista reports that opening weekend audiences have reacted very positively and hopes that good word-of-mouth will carry this movie through the rest of the summer season. The Sixth Sense marks the tenth Bruce Willis film to open at number one this decade. His huge international following should ensure a robust worldwide gross in the months ahead.

Holding onto the number two spot for the second straight weekend was the surprise sensation The Blair Witch Project which took in $24.3M allowing its hefty cume to reach $80M. The Artisan release about three student filmmakers who disappear while searching the woods for a legendary witch enjoyed the lowest depreciation in the top ten (off 17%) due to its additional 1,041 theaters. Its impressive per-theater average of $11,367 plunged 57% from the phenomenal $26,528 from last weekend indicating that some of the intense buzz that has carried this film up until now may be wearing out. Nevertheless, the ultralow-budget film directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez carries a production cost of about $60,000 and will cross the $100M mark by this coming Saturday.

Julia Roberts brought her big smile (and fat paycheck) to third place with Runaway Bride which slipped two spots from its number one debut last weekend. Paramount's romantic comedy declined a reasonable 41% taking in $20.8M which allowed its ten-day total to reach a ravishing $73.8M. Reuniting Roberts with her Pretty Woman pals Richard Gere and director Garry Marshall, Runaway Bride looks to make off with roughly $130-140M by the end of its domestic theatrical run making the $70M film another profitable offspring from the Paramount/Buena Vista marriage.

After seeing its release date pushed back from June, the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair opened in fourth with a solid $14.6M. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo played the leads this time around as the MGM/UA title infiltrated 2,427 theaters and made off with a respectable $6,016 per locale. Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator), The Thomas Crown Affair battled stiff competition and opened south of the $18.5M debut of Brosnan's last non-Bond starring pic Dante's Peak from February 1997. Affair did post the best Friday-to-Saturday increase among the five new films jumping up 42% in its second day of release which could bode well for its long-term success.

Sales for Deep Blue Sea fell 41% in its sophomore frame as the shark thriller chomped on $11.2M. With $45.5M in 12 days, the Warner Bros. action-horror title should finish its domestic run with around $75M.

Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, and Paul Reubens joined forces over the weekend in the comic book spoof Mystery Men which debuted in sixth place with $10M in ticket sales. The bumbling crimefighters marched into 2,136 theaters and averaged a moderate $4,690 per venue. Carrying a production cost of $65M and a hefty marketing tab, Universal's pic has a long way to go if hopes to break even on its investment. Mystery Men saw a mild 10% uptick in sales on Saturday which was the smallest increase among the five freshmen titles.

Playing with his gizmos in seventh was Inspector Gadget which collected $9.2M upping its cume to $64.8M in 17 days. Crashing down another 58% was the DreamWorks suspense thriller The Haunting which scared up $6.4M in its third weekend.

Box office paramedics were called in to handle two freshmen casualties. The Iron Giant, the latest feature from the struggling animation house at Warner Bros., rusted with just $5.7M in its opening weekend. Landing in 2,179 locations, the picture averaged a weak $2,631 per theater. The studio's last in-house toon, Quest for Camelot, was also ignored by moviegoers debuting in May 1998 with only $6M in 3,107 sites for a poor average of $1,945. This weekend's other poor performer was Dick starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams which broke into 1,522 locations and grossed a disappointing $2.2M putting it outside of the top ten. Sony's Nixon-era comedy averaged an impeachable $1,452 per site and has collected only $3.4M since its Wednesday launch.

The horny teens of American Pie rounded out the top ten with $4.1M in its fifth slice pushing its lucrative total to $85.5M.

A quartet of pictures fell out of the top ten over the weekend. After a powerful eleven-week run, Star Wars : Episode I slipped to eleventh place with $2.2M bringing its massive domestic cume to $412.8M. After consistently low declines of 15-25%, the $115M George Lucas megablockbuster dropped a more normal 35% this weekend and looks headed for a final tally in the vicinity of $425M. With a worldwide gross of over $600M, The Phantom Menace will pass The Lost World to become the eighth largest global grosser in history.

The summer's other highly-anticipated film, Eyes Wide Shut, continued to deflate and took in $1.6M, off 63%, giving it $52.1M thus far. The $65M Tom Cruise vehicle is likely to finish its domestic run with a not-so-impressive $55-60M.

Adam Sandler enjoyed a six-week run in the top ten as his huge hit comedy Big Daddy reached $156.1M. With a relatively modest pricetag of $32M, the Sony smash should wind down with about $160M and be a big winner on home video. Disney's Tarzan, the fourth highest-grossing film of the year, has climbed to $161.9M and is destined for a $165-170M final domestic cume with an explosive overseas campaign still getting underway.

Compared to projections, The Sixth Sense flew past my $15M forecast while The Thomas Crown Affair and Mystery Men were both in the area of my $13M projection for each. The Iron Giant and Dick both debuted below my projections of $9M and $4M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on The Blair Witch Project. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether the delayed release date of Mission: Impossible 2 would hurt its box office chances. Of 2,621 responses, 81% said no while 19% voted yes.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the performance of Bruce Willis films from this decade. For a review of The Blair Witch Project visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed a mammoth $133.1M which was up 37% from last year when Saving Private Ryan remained at number one with $17.4M, and up a hefty 71% from 1997 when Conspiracy Theory debuted on top with $19.3M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Bowfinger, starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, debuts.

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

# Title Aug. 6 - 8 Jul. 30 - Aug. 1 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 The Sixth Sense $ 26,681,262 2,161 1 $ 12,347 $ 26,681,262 Buena Vista
2 The Blair Witch Project 24,347,345 29,207,381 -16.6 2,142 4 11,367 80,049,728 Artisan
3 Runaway Bride 20,772,654 35,055,556 -40.7 3,161 2 6,572 73,820,993 Paramount
4 The Thomas Crown Affair 14,600,719 2,427 1 6,016 14,600,719 MGM/UA
5 Deep Blue Sea 11,204,559 19,107,643 -41.4 2,901 2 3,862 45,511,440 Warner Bros.
6 Mystery Men 10,017,865 2,136 1 4,690 10,017,865 Universal
7 Inspector Gadget 9,173,995 14,131,868 -35.1 2,862 3 3,205 64,779,601 Buena Vista
8 The Haunting 6,439,877 15,256,799 -57.8 2,881 3 2,235 77,340,946 DreamWorks
9 The Iron Giant 5,732,614 2,179 1 2,631 5,752,816 Warner Bros.
10 American Pie 4,146,445 6,784,260 -38.9 1,795 5 2,310 85,508,040 Universal
11 Star Wars : Episode I 2,223,198 3,420,720 -35.0 1,199 12 1,854 412,775,151 Fox
12 Dick 2,210,267 1,522 1 1,452 3,392,669 Sony
13 Tarzan 1,709,142 3,035,186 -43.7 1,132 8 1,510 161,851,795 Buena Vista
14 Eyes Wide Shut 1,601,496 4,320,243 -62.9 1,612 4 993 52,135,879 Warner Bros.
15 Big Daddy 1,502,405 3,558,738 -57.8 1,518 7 990 156,066,951 Sony
16 The Wood 1,185,277 2,570,711 -53.9 811 4 1,462 22,711,043 Paramount
17 The General's Daughter 1,121,512 2,284,984 -50.9 936 8 1,198 99,783,009 Paramount
18 Lake Placid 866,541 2,679,079 -67.7 815 4 1,063 28,749,158 Fox
19 Austin Powers 2 751,918 1,231,068 -38.9 701 9 1,073 199,647,588 New Line
20 Wild Wild West 729,260 2,503,573 -70.9 1,157 6 630 110,726,211 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 97,606,539 $ 112,759,247 -13.4
Top 10 133,117,335 133,878,394 -0.6
Top 20 147,018,351 150,924,529 -2.6

    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 : August 10, 1999 at 2:30AM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya