Weekend Box Office (September 10 - 12, 1999)

*** Read the new Summer Box Office Wrapup ***

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers spent millions on scaring themselves as the three most popular films at the North American box office were all supernatural thrillers led by Stigmata which pushed The Sixth Sense out of the number one spot. Stir of Echoes delivered a mediocre opening while strong sneak preview performances were reported for Blue Streak and For Love of the Game. Overall business was robust which is uncharacteristic of the normally bland post-Labor Day frame.

MGM's new religious-themed suspense thriller Stigmata rocketed to number one over the weekend with $18.3M, according to final figures, making it the third-largest September opening in history behind last year's Rush Hour, which debuted with $33M, and 1996's The First Wives Club which bowed with $18.9M. The film's final weekend gross was a full million dollars less than the studio originally estimated. Starring Patricia Arquette as a possessed woman and Gabriel Byrne as an investigating priest, Stigmata launched in 2,899 theaters (the widest September opening ever) and averaged a solid $6,316 per site. The strong showing gave MGM its first number one movie in three and a half years when The Birdcage hit the top in March 1996.

Helping the cause was the studio's decision to push the release date out of the busy summer where it would have been overshadowed by the season's many blockbusters and into the less crowded early fall period. Of course the surprise successes of The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense also put moviegoers in the mood for Stigmata's creepy subject matter which the film apparently capitalized on. With ticket buyers rejecting so many recent new releases, consumers were looking for an appealing film to rally behind.

The opening weekend audience for Stigmata was evenly split between males and females while 60% were under 25, according to MGM/UA distribution head Larry Gleason. Young women were the best represented group. Gleason also noted that the film was set to roll out in about 2,000 theaters but strong exhibitor demand in recent weeks pushed the theatercount to a record level for the month of September. However, Saturday ticket sales were up only 3% from Friday which could signal a rocky road ahead for the poorly-reviewed film.

After ruling the box office for five consecutive weeks, The Sixth Sense retreated to second place with a still-strong haul of $16.5M over the weekend. Down 28% from the Friday-to-Sunday portion of last weekend's holiday frame, the Bruce Willis ghost story enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten once again. The Sixth Sense has now pushed its mammoth cume to $197.7M and should shatter the $200M mark on Tuesday, its 40th day of release. The Buena Vista chiller will also become the biggest live-action film in company history later this week when it surges past Armageddon, another Bruce Willis smash. Already the highest-grossing August release ever, The Sixth Sense managed to stay powerful despite the arrival of two new supernatural thrillers attacking its core audience.

With so much cash going to Stigmata and The Sixth Sense, Artisan had to settle for a milder opening for its spooky thriller Stir of Echoes. The Kevin Bacon-starrer was launched in 1,888 theaters and grossed $5.8M for a somewhat decent average of $3,078 per site. Competition from the other suspense pics clearly took its toll on Echoes but its Friday-to-Saturday boost of 18% was significantly better than the 3% for fellow freshman Stigmata.

Collecting another $3.8M, Paramount's Runaway Bride pushed its cume to $140.5M. The Julia-Roberts-Richard Gere romantic comedy is now the studio's highest-grossing domestic release since Titanic. Meanwhile, the Runaway Bride soundtrack remained the nation's best-selling movie soundtrack for the sixth consecutive week. That makes it one of the summer's top movie discs joining such other platinum favorites as albums for Wild Wild West, Tarzan, and Austin Powers.

Universal's comedy Bowfinger was in fifth place with $3.6M which included grosses for the sneak preview of the studio's Kevin Costner pic For Love of the Game. The baseball romance screened in 1,022 theaters on Saturday evening with 71% of the shows at or near capacity according to studio spokesman Jeff Sakson. Women made up about 59% of the audience while the over-30 crowd represented 70% of the turnout. Universal also reported that an extremely high 94% of the exit polls were in the top two boxes which should bode well for the film's 2,800 theater launch on Friday.

Sony also offered a sneak preview on Saturday night for its Martin Lawrence comedy Blue Streak. According to the studio's distribution chief Jeff Blake, Streak sneaked in 828 locations filling 85% of its capacity and performed well in urban and suburban markets alike. Moviegoers under the age of 25 made up about 92% of the audience and 88% of the exit polls were in the top two boxes. Sony unleashes Blue Streak in roughly 2,500 theaters this Friday.

Dropping to sixth was the Viking adventure film The Thirteenth Warrior taking in $3M for a $26.8M cume. The Thomas Crown Affair slipped to seventh place with $2.7M which brought its total to a solid $61.4M. Hugh Grant claimed eighth place with the romantic comedy Mickey Blue Eyes which nabbed $2.2M for a total of $30.3M.

Chill Factor, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich, defrosted in its sophomore weekend falling 57% from its Friday-to-Sunday gross from last weekend to score $1.9M putting its cume at just $9.6M. Rounding out the top ten, The Blair Witch Project collected $1.6M and has upped its sum to a dazzling $136.3M.

Falling out of the top ten in their third weekends of release were USA Films' The Muse and New Line's The Astronaut's Wife which have both reached $10M. The Albert Brooks-Sharon Stone comedy The Muse should conclude with about $12-13M, while the Johnny Depp-Charlize Theron thriller might end at $11-12M. Miramax's Outside Providence plunged 59% in its second weekend of release and has collected just $5.6M to date.

Independent Artists released its new comedy Love Stinks nationwide in 1,380 theaters but only managed to gross a weak $1.4M. Starring French Stewart, Bill Bellamy, and Tyra Banks, Stinks delivered a pitiful average of $1,013 per theater. Why so many theaters thought they could make money from this film remains an eerie mystery.

Zeitgeist Films opened Deepa Mehta's Earth in eight theaters in the New York and Los Angeles areas and nabbed $42,449. The $5,306 debut average topped the corresponding $3,929 average for the director's previous film - 1997's Fire.

Another solid debut was generated by the Hindi-language film Hello Brother, from Video Sound, which grossed $245,034 in 41 sites for a promising $5,976 per theater.

Compared to projections, Stigmata opened better than my $14M forecast while Stir of Echoes debuted below my $11M prediction. Meanwhile, The Sixth Sense was close to my $18M projection.

Closing in on the $100M club over the weekend was Universal's American Pie which finished the frame with $99.9M. On Monday, in its 67th day of release, the $11M high school sex comedy will reach nine digits and become the twelfth film released this summer to hit the blockbuster mark and the third for Universal joining The Mummy and Notting Hill.

For those of you interested in independent films, visit the official web site for the motion picture I am currently producing called American Born Confused Desi. The comedy will be featured at the 21st Annual Independent Feature Film Market in New York City next weekend. Market registrants can attend the presentation on Saturday, September 18th, at 1:30PM in Theater 5 of the Angelika Film Center.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Kevin Costner's For Love of the Game. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of six films, tentatively scheduled for release next summer, they wanted to see the most. Of 2,363 responses, 37% selected Mission: Impossible 2, 19% chose Me, Myself, and Irene, 15% picked Charlies Angels, 11% went with Mission to Mars, 10% voted for Dinosaur, and 9% selected The Patriot.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which goes back to September 1994. This Wednesday's new column will review the box office track record of Kevin Costner. For a review of Stigmata visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $69.6M which was up 60% from last year when Rounders hit the top spot with $8.5M, and up 55% from 1997 when The Game opened at number one with $14.3M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when For Love of the Game and Blue Streak hit theaters.

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

# Title Sep. 10 - 12 Sep. 3 - 5 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Stigmata $ 18,309,666 2,899 1 $ 6,316 $ 18,309,666 MGM/UA
2 The Sixth Sense 16,511,464 22,896,967 -27.9 2,782 6 5,935 197,665,281 Buena Vista
3 Stir of Echoes 5,811,664 1,888 1 3,078 5,811,664 Artisan
4 Runaway Bride 3,833,803 6,742,783 -43.1 2,773 7 1,383 140,460,392 Paramount
5 Bowfinger 3,604,425 5,882,810 -38.7 2,452 5 1,470 60,406,930 Universal
6 The Thirteenth Warrior 3,027,182 6,601,306 -54.1 2,283 3 1,326 26,813,075 Buena Vista
7 The Thomas Crown Affair 2,700,191 4,697,661 -42.5 1,849 6 1,460 61,359,578 MGM/UA
8 Mickey Blue Eyes 2,211,309 4,329,332 -48.9 1,975 4 1,120 30,265,626 Warner Bros.
9 Chill Factor 1,938,864 4,529,231 -57.2 2,558 2 758 9,610,112 Warner Bros.
10 The Blair Witch Project 1,631,535 3,350,886 -51.3 1,937 9 842 136,266,612 Artisan
11 Love Stinks 1,398,046 1,380 1 1,013 1,398,046 Ind. Artists
12 In Too Deep 1,238,871 2,593,975 -52.2 641 3 1,933 11,965,590 Miramax
13 Outside Providence 1,090,705 2,631,411 -58.6 1,052 2 1,037 5,622,299 Miramax
14 The Muse 1,076,083 2,728,552 -60.6 1,002 3 1,074 10,153,910 USA Films
15 Dudley Do-Right 1,003,090 2,170,850 -53.8 1,658 3 605 8,316,960 Universal
16 Inspector Gadget 958,334 2,189,441 -56.2 1,312 8 730 92,614,930 Buena Vista
17 Deep Blue Sea 860,810 1,643,600 -47.6 944 7 912 71,006,673 Warner Bros.
18 American Pie 689,750 1,264,725 -45.5 775 10 890 99,932,930 Universal
19 Star Wars : Episode I 653,324 1,148,842 -43.1 518 17 1,261 422,252,998 Fox
20 The Astronaut's Wife 556,650 2,674,972 -79.2 1,200 3 464 10,062,597 New Line
Top 5 $ 48,071,022 $ 46,761,527 2.8
Top 10 59,580,103 64,374,500 -7.4
Top 20 69,105,766 80,850,890 -14.5

Last Updated : September 13, 1999 at 11:00PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya