Weekend Box Office (September 4 - 7, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND With the lazy days of summer coming to an end, moviegoing had to compete with the start of the NFL football season, the race for the home run record in baseball, and other outdoor activities over the Labor Day weekend. With only one new wide release, ticket buyers were busy catching up on some of the late summer's biggest hit films.

Leading the holiday box office charge was Fox's never-say-die blockbuster performer There's Something About Mary with $10.9M over the four-day period according to final figures. Filled with gross gags, raunchy humor, and a barrel full of laughs, Mary finally hit the number one spot in its eighth week of release. In this era of huge openings and rapid dropoffs, Mary's ascent to the box office throne after nearly two months is unheard of. Good reviews and strong word-of-mouth, essential ingredients in making a true blockbuster, are both at the heart of Mary's prolonged success.

With its cumulative total now at $130.3M, and climbing rapidly, Mary has become the highest-grossing film ever for its directors and star surpassing the Farrelly brothers' Dumb and Dumber ($127.2M) and Cameron Diaz's My Best Friend's Wedding ($126.8M). And with its top spot finish this weekend, it makes Fox the only studio with three summer films to hit number one (The X Files and Doctor Dolittle each spent a week at the top in June). Mary also opened in wide release in Australia over the weekend (its first overseas engagement) and debuted in the number one spot. What looks to be a lucrative international campaign is now under way by Fox.

There's Something About Mary continues to perform as successfully as 1990's Ghost. Take out Mary's $4M from its midweek opening and it is 1% ahead of Ghost's $125M through its eighth weekend (which was also Labor Day weekend). Ghost took in $10M, leading that four-day holiday frame, and went on to gross $217.6M domestically.

Slipping one notch to second place was New Line's sci-fi actioner Blade with $10.8M over the Friday-to-Monday period. After ruling the box office for two weeks, the Wesley Snipes vehicle pushed its total bite to $49.6M in 18 days. Blade is now trying to become the actor's all-time top grossing film as it heads toward the $72M that White Men Can't Jump earned in 1992.

Saving Private Ryan was still a popular choice among holiday moviegoers as it hauled in another $8.8M. Up 9% from last weekend's three-day period, the Steven Spielberg film has collected a grueling $167.1M in its war chest to date with little sign of slowing down. Last week, Spielberg and star Tom Hanks were both in attendance for Ryan's screening at the Venice Film Festival in Italy.

Tripping over itself in fourth place was the new Sony film Knock Off starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. With a debut of just $5.5M, moviegoers showed little interest in the umpteenth martial arts film from the Muscles from Brussels. Opening in 1,800 locations, Knock Off averaged a mild $3,065 per site. The weak debut mirrored similar starts for the action star's last films Double Team ($5M) and Maximum Risk ($5.6M) which opened over conventional three-day periods. The movie's target audience of young males was hard to reach with Mary, Blade, and Ryan also in the marketplace.

With American action movie fans now getting their Hong Kong martial arts fare from such stars as Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies), Chow Yun-Fat (The Replacement Killers), Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4), and of course Jackie Chan, Van Damme will need to reevaluate himself to determine if there is still room for his brand of entertainment. Van Damme's last two pictures earned an average 42% of their overall grosses during the opening weekend so expect Knock Off to finish off with $11-13M with a stronger stint on video.

Rounding out the top five was a film with much less testosterone, the fairy tale drama Ever After from Fox. Starring Drew Barrymore, the Cinderella update earned $4.3M over the holiday frame in its sixth weekend. With $54.3M in the bank, Ever After has now grossed more than Fox's previous fairy tale update Romeo and Juliet which starred a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio and collected $46.4M in 1996. Fifth place is actually the spot where Ever After debuted in six weeks ago.

In its tenth orbit with ticket buyers, Armageddon grossed $2.8M pushing its lifetime total to a meteoric $192.1M. That makes the Bruce Willis adrenaline rush the third biggest grosser in the history of Buena Vista trailing the animated blockbusters The Lion King and Aladdin. Titanic earned $178,296 in 447 docks pushing its domestic total to $600.65M. It seems that the video release of the film put a huge dent into its theatrical performance as ticket sales fell a mighty 47% from last weekend's $336,000 which was over a non-holiday Friday-to-Sunday period.

Elsewhere, two arthouse pics expanded and were greeted with successful, but not stellar, grosses. Gramercy's Your Friends and Neighbors, starring Ben Stiller and Jason Patric, took in $1.4M over the Friday-to-Monday period. Shacking up in 229 bedrooms, the Neil LaBute film averaged $6,113 per site. Slums of Beverly Hills, a coming-of-age comedy taking place in the mid-1970s, also widened to 253 tenaments and earned $1.1M, or $4,199 over the four-day holiday frame.

Compared to projections, Mary ended up topping the charts as predicted, but with a bit more than my $10M prediction. Blade came in higher than my $8.5M forecast while Saving Private Ryan was very close to my $8.5M projection. Knock Off came in short of my $8M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the upcoming fall releases. In last week's survey, readers were asked which summer film had the most surprising box office performance. Of 1,346 responses, 55% said There's Something About Mary, 14% voted for Godzilla, 11% said Doctor Dolittle, 9% said The Avengers, 7% voted for Deep Impact, and 5% said Saving Private Ryan.

Be sure to read the NEW Weekly Rewind column which reviews the weekend box office four years ago. For a review of Knock Off visit Chief's Movie Review Page. Later this week, look for the Box Office Guru Summer Wrapup which will analyze the summer box office with plenty of tables and data.

The top ten films grossed $57.5M which was up 53% from last year when Fire Down Below opened at number one with $6.1M over the three-day regular weekend, and up 61% from 1996 when Bulletproof debuted at the top with $6M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, of next weekend's activity when Rounders and Simon Birch square off at theaters everywhere.

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

# Title Sep 4 - 7 Aug 28 - 30 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 There's Something About Mary $ 10,920,201 $ 8,374,865 30.4 2,555 8 $ 4,274 $ 130,268,038 Fox
2 Blade 10,788,664 10,925,976 -1.3 2,375 3 4,543 49,555,263 New Line
3 Saving Private Ryan 8,825,090 8,092,750 9.0 2,807 7 3,144 167,071,590 DreamWorks
4 Knock Off 5,516,231 1,800 1 3,065 5,516,231 Sony
5 Ever After 4,348,419 3,778,488 15.1 1,999 6 2,175 54,298,381 Fox
6 54 4,025,576 6,611,532 -39.1 1,889 2 2,131 13,051,777 Miramax
7 Why Do Fools Fall in Love? 3,540,408 3,946,382 -10.3 1,377 2 2,571 8,780,803 WB
8 Snake Eyes 3,331,861 3,574,667 -6.8 1,912 5 1,743 50,465,428 Paramount
9 The Parent Trap 3,202,708 2,934,255 9.1 2,045 6 1,566 60,443,951 BV
10 How Stella Got Her Groove Back 3,019,496 3,648,012 -17.2 1,340 4 2,253 32,053,252 Fox
11 Armageddon 2,828,361 2,305,833 22.7 1,386 10 2,041 192,140,665 BV
12 Dance With Me 2,620,594 2,882,637 -9.1 1,467 3 1,786 12,880,784 Sony
13 Dead Man on Campus 2,119,324 2,619,613 -19.1 1,721 3 1,231 12,447,402 Paramount
14 The Mask of Zorro 2,106,833 1,718,086 22.6 1,213 8 1,737 87,940,321 Sony
15 The Negotiator 1,443,961 1,409,660 2.4 911 6 1,585 41,027,820 WB
16 Your Friends and Neighbors 1,399,779 344,531 306.3 229 3 6,113 2,484,504 Gramercy
17 Halloween : H20 1,309,858 1,798,856 -27.2 1,608 5 815 52,026,061 Miramax
18 Doctor Dolittle 1,161,070 926,167 25.4 951 11 1,221 139,485,308 Fox
19 Wrongfully Accused 1,093,300 1,858,814 -41.2 1,309 3 835 8,686,288 WB
20 Everest (IMAX) 1,084,566 843,245 28.6 61 27 17,780 40,443,439 Freeman
Top 5 $ 40,398,605 $ 37,951,505 6.4
Top 10 57,518,654 51,886,927 10.9
Top 20 74,686,300 67,406,593 10.8

    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 : September 8, 1998 at 10:00PM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya