Weekend Box Office (August 21 - 23, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND From the dark of night, New Line's vampire action film Blade drove a stake through the hearts of the competition by opening at number one with $17.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures. Its powerful opening put an end to Saving Private Ryan's four-week reign atop the box office charts. Sinking its teeth into 2,322 theaters, Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, sliced up a bloody $7,353 average per coffin. Based on the Marvel Comics character, Blade is the story of a half-vampire half-human hero who seeks revenge on his enemy Deacon Frost, played by Stephen Dorff.

Blade has given Snipes the best opening weekend of his career edging out the $16.9M debut of U.S. Marshals from earlier this year. The actor has not had a number one film in nearly three years when To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar spent two weeks at the top in September of 1995 . For New Line Cinema, Blade gave the distributor its ninth biggest opening ever. With a reported budget of $45M, Blade had a strong launch considering the R-rated picture was a top choice among teenage boys. New Line has a good history of marketing martial arts and comic pictures to this demographic group. In August 1995, Mortal Kombat exploded on the scene with $23.3M; last August Spawn opened with an impressive $21.2M; and last November New Line hit number one again with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation which opened with $16.8M.

Slipping a notch to second place was Steven Spielberg's gut-wrenching war drama Saving Private Ryan with $10.1M in its fifth attack. Off only 23%, the critically-acclaimed motion picture has pushed its total to $142.7M making it the eighth highest-grossing film for the Oscar-winning director. Ryan has also become the second biggest release of the year, passing Deep Impact and Godzilla, and trails only Armageddon which has amassed $185M. Given the current box office trajectories of the two summer films, and the light competition in the weeks ahead, both Ryan and Armageddon should be able to reach the $190M area creating a tense battle for the summer box office crown.

Another overachiever was found in third place. Fox's runaway hit comedy There's Something About Mary grossed $7.7M over the weekend and crossed the $100M mark on Saturday, its 39th day of release. Down a scant 13%, Mary's legs show no sign of slowing as the Farrelly Brothers hit moved up a notch from last weekend and has thus far zipped up $104M without ever reaching the number one or number two spots. Once again having the lowest decline in the top ten, Mary became the ninth release of the year to cross the blockbuster threshold. Adding in movies released in December, that brings the overall total of films hitting that milestone during the calendar year to thirteen.

The popularity of this romantic comedy, which stars Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, and Matt Dillon, has surprised most industry observers and has given its studio one of the most profitable titles of 1998. Stiller and Dillon both have $100M hits on their resumes for the first time while directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly make it a deuce after their 1994 smash Dumb and Dumber which grossed $127.2M. As for the dazzling Ms. Diaz, Mary became her third blockbuster joining The Mask ($119.9M) and My Best Friend's Wedding ($126.8M). The remarkable staying power of Mary has made it the only summer movie to spend six consecutive weeks in the top five. If it continues to perform this well into the autumn months, Mary could flirt with $150M in domestic ticket sales which should fuel a lucrative international run.

Another Fox release took fourth as How Stella Got Her Groove Back finished the frame with $6.5M pushing its ten-day cume to an amorous $22.2M. The Angela Bassett romantic drama declined 43% in its sophomore weekend but still enjoyed the second-best per-theater average in the top ten. By comparison, second weekend drops for other recent dramas aimed at African-American women have included 25% for last year's Soul Food, 6% for 1995's Waiting to Exhale (though that compares two four-day holiday frames), and 57% for Poetic Justice from the summer of 1993. Stella should groove her way to about $35-40M.

Rounding out the top five was the Brian De Palma thriller Snake Eyes, starring Nicolas Cage, with $5M in its third roll of the dice. Down 42%, the Paramount conspiracy film has grossed $40.5M to date and looks headed for a final tally of around $55M.

Opening in sixth with $4.7M was the dark comedy Dead Man on Campus also from Paramount. With heavy promotion on MTV, the comedy about two failing college students who try to make their roommate commit suicide so they can get straight A's debuted in 1,797 classrooms with a $2,618 average. With no big-name stars, Dead Man should pick up some small business in the next two weeks before its target audience heads back to school.

The Drew Barrymore fairy tale film Ever After has proven to be a solid hit with strong midweek business and small weekly declines. Taking in another $4.6M, the Fox fantasy picture is running 18% ahead of that other ancient literature remake aimed at teens - Romeo And Juliet. That 1996 update, also from Fox, starred Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes and ended up grossing $46.4M. Ever After seems destined for a charming final total of approximately $65M.

Sony's new release Dance With Me was in eighth with $4.5M. Debuting in 1,467 ballrooms, the Vanessa L. Williams picture averaged a decent $3,073 per location. Ninth place was claimed by Disney's The Parent Trap with $3.9M. The family film should hit $60-65M by the end of its run.

Warner Bros. saw two disastrous performances over the weekend from its offerings. First, the expensive, yet critically-panned adventure film The Avengers needed saving from all the negative buzz that surrounded it. The spy film plunged 64% and barely hung onto a top ten position with $3.7M take which lifted its ten-day gross to just $17.8M. Look for a final domestic tally of about $25M for this $60M-budgeted film. The new release from Warners this weekend, the spoof comedy Wrongfully Accused starring Leslie Nielsen, opened poorly with $3.5M. The studio backed the film with lots of support including a launch in 2,062 theaters (very wide for a late summer freshman) and a substantial advertising campaign. Unfortunately, moviegoers were not amused as the comedy averaged a pitiful $1,700 per site.

The world's most dominant motion picture, Titanic, netted $540,617 in domestic ticket sales over the Friday-to-Sunday period pushing its record-breaking cumulative total to $599,657,813. For the first time in 36 weeks, the Oscar-winning film dropped out of the Top 20. Be sure to check Box Office Guru all week long for the special report TITANIC : Countdown to $600 Million, which will feature daily updates on the film's voyage to the historic mark.

In limited release, Gramercy opened the romantic comedy Your Friends and Neighbors to the tune of $340,276 in 32 theaters for a promising average of $10,634. Meanwhile, Miramax launched another romantic comedy, the Boston-based Next Stop, Wonderland, in eight sites and cumed $123,000 for a strong $15,375 average.

Compared to my projections, Blade powered past the $13M forecast I had. Dead Man on Campus was a little stronger than my $3M prediction. Dance With Me and Wrongfully Accused were very close to my projections of $5M and $4M respectively. Saving Private Ryan came in almost exactly at my $10M forecast.

Take this week's new Reader Survey on President Clinton. In last week's survey, readers were asked when they planned to see Star Wars : Episode I. Of 1,541 responses, 73% said on opening weekend, 21% voted later in its run, and 6% said they do not plan to see it.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which features a report on the top films of Wesley Snipes. This Wednesday's new column will focus on the top September openings of the decade. For a review of Blade visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $67.8M which was up 3% from last year when G.I. Jane opened at number one with $11.1M, and up 32% from 1996 when The Island of Dr. Moreau debuted at the top with $9.1M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary of next weekend's activity which will see the opening of Miramax's 54.

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

# Title Aug 21 - 23 Aug 14 - 16 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Blade $ 17,073,856 2,322 1 $ 7,353 $ 17,073,856 New Line
2 Saving Private Ryan 10,142,045 13,157,819 -22.9 2,671 5 3,797 142,748,038 DreamWorks
3 There's Something About Mary 7,690,128 8,824,832 -12.9 2,186 6 3,518 104,005,443 Fox
4 How Stella Got Her Groove Back 6,475,227 11,318,919 -42.8 1,399 2 4,628 22,155,282 Fox
5 Snake Eyes 5,046,651 8,638,309 -41.6 2,642 3 1,910 40,500,140 Paramount
6 Dead Man on Campus 4,704,688 1,797 1 2,618 4,704,688 Paramount
7 Ever After 4,575,973 5,997,733 -23.7 1,864 4 2,455 42,348,591 Fox
8 Dance With Me 4,507,663 1,467 1 3,073 4,507,663 Sony
9 The Parent Trap 3,885,840 5,665,316 -31.4 2,169 4 1,792 51,142,505 BV
10 The Avengers 3,664,587 10,305,957 -64.4 2,466 2 1,486 17,848,903 WB
11 Halloween : H20 3,632,178 8,478,537 -57.2 2,360 3 1,539 47,164,113 Miramax
12 Wrongfully Accused 3,504,630 2,062 1 1,700 3,504,630 WB
13 Armageddon 2,735,637 4,138,566 -33.9 1,423 8 1,922 184,993,784 BV
14 The Negotiator 2,265,372 4,204,152 -46.1 1,558 4 1,454 38,782,922 WB
15 The Mask of Zorro 2,103,883 3,760,358 -44.1 1,500 6 1,403 82,512,233 Sony
16 Return to Paradise 1,423,289 2,465,129 -42.3 985 2 1,445 5,136,731 Polygram
17 Air Bud : Golden Receiver 1,382,948 2,603,726 -46.9 1,669 2 829 5,720,033 Miramax
18 Lethal Weapon 4 1,321,921 2,724,287 -51.5 1,408 7 939 123,585,727 WB
19 Doctor Dolittle 1,163,612 1,612,022 -27.8 934 9 1,246 136,661,554 Fox
20 Everest (IMAX) 883,756 910,848 -3.0 61 25 14,488 37,699,580 Freeman
Top 5 $ 46,427,907 $ 52,245,836 -11.1
Top 10 67,766,638 80,730,140 -16.1
Top 20 88,183,884 97,483,054 -9.5

    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 : August 25, 1998 at 10:30AM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya