Weekend Box Office (September 18 - 20, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND There was heavy traffic at theaters nationwide as Rush Hour, starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, shattered all industry expectations and opened with a colossal $33M, according to final figures - a full $2M above initial estimates. The New Line action-comedy easily set a new opening weekend record for the distributor beating long-time recordholder Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which launched with $25.4M in March of 1990. Rush Hour's mammoth gross also set a new benchmark for the month of September (surpassing The First Wives Club's $18.9M in 1996) as well as for the August-October time of year. Crashing into 2,638 theaters, Rush Hour sped away with a fantastic $12,510 per site.

In Rush Hour, Chan and Tucker play cops from two different worlds paired together to solve the kidnapping of a Chinese diplomat's daughter. The combined starpower of martial arts action star Jackie Chan with the wise-cracking comedian Chris Tucker was enough to lure moviegoers from all walks of life into the multiplexes to see the Brett Ratner-helmed film. The director previously worked with Tucker in last year's hit comedy Money Talks which grossed a solid $41.1M. Reviews for Rush Hour have been good while the marketing and publicity by New Line has been nothing short of superb.

Aside from easily being the biggest opening ever for the two stars, Rush Hour's $33M tally ranks as the fifth best debut of the year behind Godzilla, Deep Impact, Armageddon, and Lethal Weapon 4. Rush Hour was so dominant that it accounted for over half of all ticket sales for the top ten films. Looking back at Jackie Chan's recent string of Hong Kong action films released domestically, he made a big splash in 1996 with Rumble in the Bronx which opened with $9.9M, but soon settled into a groove of mild openings with Supercop ($5.5M), First Strike ($5.8M), Operation Condor ($4.7M), and Mr. Nice Guy ($5.3M). Rush Hour opened with as much as all these films combined.

New Line Cinema has an extremely profitable picture on its hands. With such a powerful debut, Rush Hour should be able to utilize good word-of-mouth to speed past $100M in domestic ticket sales. Chan's international drawing power will lead to a potentially fruitful overseas release later this year, and worldwide home video should be boffo as well. With a production budget of about $34M, Rush Hour did not cost as much as other blockbusters so the payback will be sweet. Universal Pictures should be happy with the success of Rush Hour since they will distribute Chris Tucker's next action-comedy Double O-Soul next year which also stars singer Mariah Carey.

Al Shapiro, distribution president at New Line Cinema, stated that Rush Hour's performance went well beyond expectations and that audience recommendation levels over the weekend were incredibly high. Shapiro noted that the film played extremely well across all demographic groups and that it should continue to play well in the coming weeks.

Another new film with two popular stars, One True Thing, debuted in second place with $6.6M. Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger star in this tearjerker about a young woman who comes home to care for her ailing mother who is dying of cancer. Opening in 1,590 theaters, the Universal drama averaged a healthy $4,155 per location and saw a 41% increase in sales on Saturday over Friday. For Streep, One True Thing gave the Oscar-winning actress her best opening since 1995's The Bridges of Madison County which arrived with $10.5M. One True Thing has garnered very good reviews and word-of-mouth should help the film as well giving the picture what should be a solid run over the next few weeks.

Slipping back to where it was four weeks ago, third place, There's Something About Mary earned $5.6M over the weekend pushing its total gross to $147.1M. Down 19% from last weekend, the Fox comedy is still holding its own with moviegoers despite having Rush Hour in the marketplace attracting patrons looking for a laugh. Comparing Mary to 1990's sleeper hit Ghost, the gross-out comedy is still running 4% ahead of the Demi Moore romance which had accumulated $141.4M by the end of its tenth weekend.

Last weekend's two new releases rounded out the top five. Miramax's Rounders grossed $4.7M which was down a heavy 44%. The ten-day total for the Matt Damon gambling film stands at $16.1M and it should be able to finish with about $25M. Buena Vista added 300 theaters to the run of Simon Birch which led to a 13% rise in ticket sales as the heart-warming drama finished the frame with $3.7M. Its per-theater average of $4,179 was second-best in the top ten. With its low budget, Simon Birch should manage a very respectable box office run during the fall giving Buena Vista a modest hit.

After eight weeks, Saving Private Ryan finally fell out of the top five but still posted a weekend gross of $3.4M, down only 24%, raising the value of its war chest to $178.1M. New Line's Blade is still showing box office bite with $3.3M. Its total gross of $61.3M makes it the third highest-grossing film for Wesley Snipes trailing White Men Can't Jump's $72M and Rising Sun's $62.5M. Rounding out the top ten were Ever After with $1.8M, Armageddon with $1.3M, and Snake Eyes with $920,000, according to studio estimates.

Opening in just 55 theaters, Artisan's Permanent Midnight, starring Ben Stiller as a heroin-addicted sitcom writer, took in $260,562 giving it a mediocre $4,737 average.

Compared to projections, Rush Hour more than doubled my forecast of $14M while One True Thing came in very close to my prediction of $6M.

For a complete look at the summer box office, read the Box Office Guru Summer Wrapup which analyzes the record-breaking season with projected final grosses and plenty of data.

Box Office Guru now feaures a Marketplace where readers can conveniently search and shop for movies, DVDs, music, and books. The online retailers Reel.com, Music Boulevard, and Amazon.com offer wide selections and discounted prices for internet users and will ship items directly to you. Search engines for all three retailers can be found in the Marketplace. Browse through the Jackie Chan catalog at Reel.com.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Robert De Niro's new film Ronin. In last week's survey, readers were asked who their favorite movie president was. Of 1,975 responses, 64% said Harrison Ford (Air Force One), 11% voted for Bill Pullman (Independence Day), 11% picked Michael Douglas (An American President), 9% said Morgan Freeman (Deep Impact), and 6% chose Jack Nicholson (Mars Attacks!).

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reviews the summer box office from the last three years. This Wednesday's new Rewind column will report on the all-time top grossing films from New Line Cinema. For a review of Rush Hour, visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed $64.3M which was up 30% from last year when In & Out opened at number one with $15M, and up 46% from 1996 when The First Wives Club set a new September opening record with $18.9M. Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Ronin and Urban Legend hit theaters..

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

# Title Sep 18 - 20 Sep 11 - 13 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Rush Hour $ 33,001,803 2,638 1 $ 12,510 $ 33,001,803 New Line
2 One True Thing 6,606,455 1,590 1 4,155 6,606,455 Universal
3 There's Something About Mary 5,634,385 6,952,863 -19.0 2,543 10 2,216 147,126,261 Fox
4 Rounders 4,731,197 8,459,126 -44.1 2,191 2 2,159 16,081,589 Miramax
5 Simon Birch 3,744,801 3,321,370 12.7 896 2 4,179 8,111,342 BV
6 Saving Private Ryan 3,405,161 4,504,502 -24.4 2,511 9 1,356 178,091,556 DreamWorks
7 Blade 3,263,253 5,193,323 -37.2 2,375 5 1,374 61,304,718 New Line
8 Ever After 1,778,716 2,296,421 -22.5 1,850 8 961 59,620,410 Fox
9 Armageddon 1,254,927 1,581,421 -20.6 1,334 12 941 195,835,936 BV
10 Snake Eyes 920,173 1,583,354 -41.9 1,291 7 713 53,896,133 Paramount
11 The Parent Trap 894,231 1,256,091 -28.8 1,409 8 635 63,100,330 BV
12 How Stella Got Her Groove Back 864,540 1,483,946 -41.7 1,053 6 821 35,329,596 Fox
13 The Mask of Zorro 688,771 1,003,555 -31.4 946 10 728 90,210,339 Sony
14 Knock Off 638,313 1,922,829 -66.8 1,715 3 372 9,515,689 Sony
15 Everest (IMAX) 634,874 732,035 -13.3 61 29 10,408 42,561,428 Freeman
16 Doctor Dolittle 632,814 677,948 -6.7 936 13 676 141,095,860 Fox
17 Why Do Fools Fall in Love? 622,878 1,337,227 -53.4 884 4 705 11,599,415 WB
18 Slums of Beverly Hills 555,446 857,867 -35.3 837 6 664 4,464,728 Fox Searchlight
19 Dance With Me 528,573 1,021,905 -48.3 737 5 717 15,113,284 Sony
20 54 524,999 1,387,417 -62.2 1,109 4 473 16,214,148 Miramax
Top 5 $ 53,718,641 $ 28,431,184 88.9
Top 10 64,340,871 37,299,155 72.5
Top 20 70,926,310 47,158,794 50.4

    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 21, 1998 at 10:30PM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya