Weekend Box Office (September 24 - 26, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers rallied behind the new entry Double Jeopardy while ignoring the frame's other freshmen films. American Beauty sparkled in its expanded release and among sophomores, Blue Streak continued to make audiences laugh while Kevin Costner's For Love of the Game struck out in its second at-bat. Overall business was brisk as the September box office strives to reach a new record.

Paramount's crime thriller Double Jeopardy rocked the box office with a $23.2M opening, according to final studio figures. The film stars Ashley Judd as a woman wrongly accused of murder who seeks revenge on the husband who framed her, and Tommy Lee Jones as the parole officer bent on stopping her before she goes too far. Bowing in 2,547 theaters, Double Jeopardy averaged a terrific $9,094 per site and delivered the second-biggest September opening in history trailing Rush Hour's $33M bow last year. An intriguing plot, a strong marketing campaign, and good starpower all contributed to the successful launch of Double Jeopardy. Judd played the central character and proved she could help open a picture while the Oscar-winning man in black had the secondary role but was given top-billing in order to take advantage of the marquee value of his name.

According to the studio, the strongest turnout came from adult women but other groups all registered very well too. The film's 35% Friday-to-Saturday increase, though good, was the smallest for any film in the top ten. Paramount and Ashley Judd scored two years ago with the fall crime thriller Kiss the Girls starring Morgan Freeman which opened with $13.2M which accounted for just 22% of its final domestic take of $60.5M. If Double Jeopardy performs similarly, it might reach $90M+ at the box office.

The month of September belongs to Paramount Pictures. The studio can claim three of the top six debuts in the month (Double Jeopardy, 1996's The First Wives Club, and 1997's In & Out) as well as the two highest-grossing September releases - 1986's Crocodile Dundee ($175M) and 1987's Fatal Attraction ($157M). With Double Jeopardy, Paramount now has four films that have opened at number one this year - Varsity Blues, Payback, and Runaway Bride being the others. Only Warner Bros. has more in 1999 with its series of five top spot debuts - Message in a Bottle, Analyze This, The Matrix, Wild Wild West, and Eyes Wide Shut.

After a chart-topping debut last weekend, Martin Lawrence's comedy Blue Streak slipped a notch to second place with $12.5M. Down just 35%, the Sony pic has made off with a rosy $37M in ten days and looks headed for a final gross of $70-75M proving the comic does not need the added starpower of Eddie Murphy or Will Smith to score a box office hit.

Moviegoers continued seeing dead people as The Sixth Sense held steady in third place with $8.4M in its eighth frame. The Bruce Willis smash enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten slipping just 25% and boosted its cume to a spooky $225M putting it at number twenty on the all-time domestic blockbuster list between The Lost World's $229M and Mrs. Doubtfire's $219M. It may just be fitting for Bruce Willis and ex-wife Demi Moore to bookend the decade with afterlife dramas that became surprise summer smashes - Willis' The Sixth Sense and Moore's Ghost which grossed $218M in 1990.

For Love of the Game dropped to fourth place in the standings with $6.4M in its second outing. The Kevin Costner-Kelly Preston baseball romance plunged 51% putting its ten-day tally at $23M. The $50M Sam Raimi-directed release is not winning many new fans and should finish its season with around $35M. A spokeman for Universal stated that the company was disappointed with the weekend results and put partial blame on Costner badmouthing the studio's decision to edit the final cut of the film to win a PG-13 rating.

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening invaded theaters with the semi-national expansion of the critically-praised American Beauty. The DreamWorks tale of familial breakdown widened from 16 to 429 theaters and grossed $5.9M giving it a dazzling average of $13,845 per location. The studio plans a full national rollout this Friday hoping that autumn moviegoers will continue to embrace Beauty throughout the season in all parts of North America. The film's Friday-to-Saturday increase was a commendable 44% and its cumulative total now stands at $7.5M.

The supernatural thrillers Stigmata and Stir of Echoes both dropped sharply from last weekend and placed sixth and seventh respectively. MGM's former number one grossed $4.7M boosting its cume to $40.6M while the Kevin Bacon chiller took in $2.3M and has taken in $15.6M to date.

Debuting poorly in eighth was Robin Williams' Holocaust-era drama Jakob the Liar with a mere $2.1M. The Sony release about a man who broadcasts false reports of hope to Jews held captive in Poland during World War II opened in 1,200 theaters and averaged an awful $1,714 per site. The bleak subject matter made Jakob a tough sell but moviegoers may have avoided the picture since they saw a striking similarity to the Academy Award-winning film Life is Beautiful which charmed audiences earlier in the year. Even the starpower of Robin Williams, who has seen ten of his films gross over $90M domestically, could not attract ticket buyers as the Oscar-winning actor witnessed one of the poorest openings of his lucrative career.

Mumford, a new comedy from Buena Vista, also premiered without strength taking in $1.9M in its first weekend of play. Launching in 1,452 theaters, Mumford averaged a pitiful $1,275 per locale. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere rounded out the top ten with Runaway Bride which grossed $1.6M in its ninth weekend to push its cume to $146.5M.

A quartet of August releases fell out of the top ten over the weekend. The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, has grossed $66M to date and should conclude with a solid domestic haul of $68-70M. The MGM/UA remake cost about $60M to produce and is already generating strong sales in international markets. Universal's $55M comedy Bowfinger has reached $64.3M thus far and should wrap with a commendable $66-68M.

The Antonio Banderas adventure pic The Thirteenth Warrior has collected $30.9M and seems headed for a final domestic tally of $33-35M which is a far cry from its reported $90M production cost. Mickey Blue Eyes, starring Hugh Grant, has captured $32.9M to date with a $34M finish within its reach. The $40M comedy will have to pull in larger audiences overseas and on video in order to break even.

Dog Park, a romantic comedy with Natasha Henstridge and Luke Wilson, and the Dennis Rodman actioner Simon Sez both corpsed in their debuts. Each film grossed less than $200,000 while opening in over 500 theaters. That averages out to an embarrassing 4 tickets sold per showing over the weekend.

Opening with a higher gross in just a fraction of the number of theaters was Indian import Dil Kya Kare which collected $189,000 in only 35 sites for a solid $5,392 average. Also premiering with promising results was Miramax's Guinevere with $54,000 in ten houses for a $5,415 average.

Compared to projections, Double Jeopardy powered past my $16M forecast while American Beauty came in a little below my $7M prediction. Jakob the Liar and Mumford both failed to reach my projections of $8M and $5M respectively.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the October release you most want to see. In last week's survey, readers were asked who they thought was the current king of comedy. Of 1,879 responses, 38% selected Jim Carrey, 29% picked Adam Sandler, 12% voted for Robin Williams, 12% chose Mike Myers, and 8% said Eddie Murphy.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reviews the box office track record of Robin Williams. This Wednesday's new column will look at the biggest October openings. For reviews of Double Jeopardy and Mumford visit the new Chief Report.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $69M which was up 8% from last year when Rush Hour claimed the top spot with $21.2M, and up 14% from 1997 when The Peacemaker opened at number one with $12.3M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when another flock of films fly into theaters including Drive Me Crazy and Three Kings.

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

# Title Sep. 24 - 26 Sep. 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Double Jeopardy $ 23,162,542 2,547 1 $ 9,094 $ 23,162,542 Paramount
2 Blue Streak 12,547,093 19,208,806 -34.7 2,735 2 4,588 37,015,498 Sony
3 The Sixth Sense 8,435,193 11,207,422 -24.7 2,791 8 3,022 225,042,276 Buena Vista
4 For Love of the Game 6,435,770 13,041,685 -50.7 2,854 2 2,255 23,018,835 Universal
5 American Beauty 5,939,646 429 2 13,845 7,484,984 DreamWorks
6 Stigmata 4,700,199 9,229,007 -49.1 2,853 3 1,647 40,566,932 MGM/UA
7 Stir of Echoes 2,288,940 3,947,618 -42.0 1,897 3 1,207 15,589,261 Artisan
8 Jakob the Liar 2,056,647 1,200 1 1,714 2,056,647 Sony
9 Mumford 1,851,291 1,452 1 1,275 1,851,291 Buena Vista
10 Runaway Bride 1,613,381 2,604,841 -38.1 1,870 9 863 146,549,097 Paramount
11 The Thomas Crown Affair 969,007 1,956,007 -50.5 1,405 8 690 65,980,678 MGM/UA
12 Star Wars : Episode I 801,935 799,369 0.3 766 19 1,047 424,399,730 Fox
13 Bowfinger 785,895 1,712,290 -54.1 1,299 7 605 64,312,065 Universal
14 The Thirteenth Warrior 758,170 1,667,843 -54.5 1,137 5 667 30,940,606 Buena Vista
15 The Blair Witch Project 486,318 806,363 -39.7 947 11 514 138,433,816 Artisan
16 Inspector Gadget 422,492 609,331 -30.7 764 10 553 93,955,160 Buena Vista
17 Mickey Blue Eyes 379,583 1,134,270 -66.5 823 6 461 32,879,922 Warner Bros.
18 Tarzan 303,692 384,901 -21.1 513 15 592 169,497,568 Buena Vista
19 In Too Deep 298,317 476,258 -37.4 382 5 781 13,294,486 Miramax
20 Dudley Do-Right 294,455 513,935 -42.7 755 5 390 9,485,290 Universal
Top 5 $ 56,520,244 $ 56,634,538 -0.2
Top 10 69,030,702 65,709,789 5.1
Top 20 74,530,566 72,066,839 3.4

Last Updated : September 27, 1999 at 10:30PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya