Weekend Box Office (August 14 - 16, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND Another brutal assault was waged against Steven Spielberg but the Oscar-winning director claimed victory once again as Saving Private Ryan remained the most popular movie with $13.2M in ticket sales over the weekend according to final studio figures. The epic war drama starring Tom Hanks has now spent four consecutive weekends at number one and has pushed its cumulative total to $126M in 24 days of release. Down just 24%, Saving Private Ryan is now the fifth highest-grossing movie of the summer and will give Armageddon a run for its money in being the top summer film. Outside of Titanic's historic run, the last film to top the charts for four straight frames was The Birdcage in March of 1996.

Fox's How Stella Got Her Groove Back made a strong debut in second place with $11.3M. Playing in only 1,395 locations, Stella powered her way to the best per-theater average in the top ten with a sparkling $8,114. The Angela Bassett drama of a 40-year-old career woman who falls for a much younger man while on vacation in Jamaica, had a powerful launch to its theatrical campaign. Also starring Whoopi Goldberg, Stella is an adaptation of the novel by Waiting to Exhale author Terry McMillan.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back opened better than some other recent films targeting African-American women. Last fall's Soul Food debuted with $11.2M with a $8,363 average; 1996's Set it Off opened with $8.8M and $8,678 per location; and Poetic Justice, from 1993, arrived with $11.7M and a $9,191 average. Waiting to Exhale, which also starred Angela Bassett, shocked the industry by opening at number one over the Christmas weekend in 1995. With $14.1M over the four-day holiday frame (with $11.3M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion), Exhale made Hollywood realize that black women made up an underserved segment of the moviegoing public and that a quality film geared towards them could be hugely successful. Stella should keep the momentum going as the starpower of Bassett and Goldberg, along with the tie-in to the best-selling novel, brought in a large audience over the weekend.

Sneaking its way into third place, The Avengers from Warner Bros. collected $10.3M in its debut outing. The big-budget remake of the popular 1960s spy series starred Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery. However, with a pricetag of roughly $70M, Warners needed a much bigger opening in order to justify the cost. Saving the world in style in 2,466 sites, The Avengers managed a mild $4,179 average and gave Warners yet another disappointing performance.

The studio decided not to screen the picture for critics before the release which now raises an important issue. Normally, a studio will give critics an early look at the film hoping to spread publicity and some good reviews that can be quoted in an advertising campaign. But if the movie is bad, and the studio thinks that critic screenings will generate nothing but poor reviews that could hurt the box office, they will not screen it for the press. But with The Avengers, that in itself became a story that the press reported on. So Hollywood now has to decide what is worse - poor reviews from critics, or widespread reports on how bad the film must be because the studio is not screening it for movie critics.

Moviegoers continued to be charmed by Mary. The Fox hit comedy There's Something About Mary slipped by only 8% to gross $8.8M. Remarkably, the Farrelly Brothers picture had its smallest decline yet over the weekend. Mary joins Deep Impact in being the only summer movies to spend five straight weekends in the top five. With $91.3M, Mary's legs should take the picture to the $100M level next weekend - possibly on Sunday, August 23rd. Mixing crude humor and nonstop gags, the Fox comedy is connecting with a wide range of moviegoers and is attracting repeat customers. At its current pace, There's Something About Mary could become the summer's third highest-grossing blockbuster.

Rounding out the top five was Snake Eyes, starring Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise, with $8.6M in its second weekend. Down an unlucky 47%, the Paramount thriller has grossed $31.6M in its first ten days of release. Snake Eyes is not showing much durability and should top out at a decent $55-60M.

Another sophomore, Halloween: H20, fell sharply in its second weekend of play. Slashing up $8.5M, the Miramax scarefest was down 48% and pushed its cume to $40.1M in 12 days. With a reported budget of $17M, H20 is well on its way to covering its production and marketing costs making it a profitable title for the Weinsteins. By comparison, Scream 2, another highly-anticipated horror sequel, fell 58% in its second frame. H20 seems on its way to the $60-65M range.

Elsewhere, the Drew Barrymore fairy tale pic Ever After is playing solidly each week and experienced the second lowest decline in the top ten. With $34M in 17 days, the Fox hit could be destined for the $65-75M vicinity. Disney's The Parent Trap should approach the $60-70M range overall. And The Negotiator should extract $45-50M from moviegoers by the end of its run.

Over the weekend, Armageddon became the highest-grossing live-action picture ever for Buena Vista. Rocketing to $180M, the Bruce Willis asteroid adventure passed Pretty Woman's $178.4M domestic gross and broke a record that had been held for eight years. The distributor's top three titles overall remain The Lion King ($312.9M), Aladdin ($217M), and Toy Story ($191.8M). At its current trajectory, Armageddon should pass Toy Story on that list and end as Buena Vista's third biggest domestic pic.

Two July action movies left the top ten. Lethal Weapon 4 spent five weeks there and has now grossed $121.1M. The Mask of Zorro spent four weeks in the top ten and has pushed its cume to $78.4M.

Opening nationwide this weekend, but not able to crack the top ten, were Polygram's Return to Paradise and Miramax's Air Bud : Golden Receiver. Paradise, a thriller starring Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche, took in just $2.5M in 965 prison cells for a malnourished $2,555 average. The weak opening can't be good news to Universal which will release a remake of Psycho starring Vaughn and Heche this winter. Although the storyline of giving up freedom in order to save a friend's life was intriguing, Paradise lacked the starpower to pull in a sizable audience against the heavy summer competition. Air Bud, the sequel to last summer's hit family film, ate up $2.6M in 1,669 kennels for a not-so-meaty $1,560 average. The original Air Bud debuted with $4.9M last August, but had the marketing muscle of Disney behind it.

Fox Searchlight released the comedy The Slums of Beverly Hills and was greeted with robust sales. Opening in seven locations in New York and Los Angeles, Slums grossed an estimated $125,561 for a buxom $17,937 per site. The coming-of-age film which stars Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, and Marisa Tomei expands into more markets on August 28th before going nationwide on September 4th.

The world's favorite ocean liner inched closer to the prestigious $600M mark over the weekend. Titanic took in another $708,000 in 594 theaters boosting its domestic total to $598.6M in its 35th weekend of release. The Jack-and-Rose romance should cross $600M next week - possibly by Wednesday, August 26th.

Compared to my projections, How Stella Got Her Groove Back came in under my $13M forecast. The Avengers was very close to my $10M prediction. Return to Paradise did not reach my $6M projection. And Air Bud was near my $3M forecast.

Take this week's new Reader Survey on Star Wars: Episode I. In last week's survey, readers were asked how many films opened at number two during Titanic's 15-week stint at the top. Of 1,516 responses, 36% answered nine, 32.3% said ten, 21.5% voted eight, and 10.2% said seven. The correct answer was nine.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which features a report on Steven Spielberg's top grossing films. On Wednesday, this week's new column will focus on the top films of Wesley Snipes. For reviews of recent releases visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $80.7M which was up 15% from last year when Cop Land opened at number one with $13.5M, and up a healthy 48% from 1996 when Tin Cup debuted at the top with $10.1M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's activity when four more new releases will try to defeat Private Ryan.

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

# Title Aug 14 - 16 Aug 7 - 9 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Saving Private Ryan $ 13,157,819 17,398,000 -24.4 2,654 4 $ 4,958 $ 126,035,694 DreamWorks
2 How Stella Got Her Groove Back 11,318,919 1,395 1 8,114 11,318,919 Fox
3 The Avengers 10,305,957 2,466 1 4,179 10,305,957 WB
4 There's Something About Mary 8,824,832 9,626,022 -8.3 2,203 5 4,006 91,308,241 Fox
5 Snake Eyes 8,638,309 16,310,373 -47.0 2,718 2 3,178 31,633,689 Paramount
6 Halloween : H20 8,478,537 16,187,724 -47.6 2,669 2 3,177 40,105,328 Miramax
7 Ever After 5,997,733 7,694,677 -22.1 2,058 3 2,914 34,004,868 Fox
8 The Parent Trap 5,665,316 8,127,121 -30.3 2,407 3 2,354 43,626,355 BV
9 The Negotiator 4,204,152 6,503,833 -35.4 2,032 3 2,069 32,482,548 WB
10 Armageddon 4,138,566 5,318,807 -22.2 1,786 7 2,317 180,032,498 BV
11 The Mask of Zorro 3,760,358 5,508,627 -31.7 2,123 5 1,771 78,430,821 Sony
12 Lethal Weapon 4 2,724,287 4,739,997 -42.5 1,928 6 1,413 121,053,120 WB
13 Air Bud : Golden Receiver 2,603,726 1,669 1 1,560 2,603,726 Miramax
14 Return to Paradise 2,465,129 965 1 2,555 2,465,129 Polygram
15 Doctor Dolittle 1,612,022 3,053,717 -47.2 1,390 8 1,160 134,702,862 Fox
16 Small Soldiers 921,369 1,551,000 -40.6 925 6 996 51,203,539 DreamWorks
17 Everest (IMAX) 910,848 965,467 -5.7 62 24 14,691 35,993,525 Freeman
18 Titanic 707,918 965,212 -26.7 594 35 1,192 598,614,980 Paramount
19 Mulan 618,618 1,040,389 -40.5 661 9 936 114,945,246 BV
20 Mafia! 428,639 1,391,056 -69.2 457 4 938 18,464,607 BV
Top 5 $ 52,245,836 $ 67,649,240 -22.8
Top 10 80,730,140 97,415,181 -17.1
Top 20 97,483,054 109,537,099 -11.0

    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 17, 1998 at 9:00PM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya