Weekend Box Office (October 2 - 4, 1998)

THISWEEKEND Three strong performances by new releases, coupled with some impressive holdovers, powered the box office to a record frame. Marching into first place was the solid opening of Antz, the first animated feature from DreamWorks, which grossed $17.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday period according to final studio figures. Colonizing 2,449 theaters, the computer-generated bug pic walked away with a fantastic $7,021 average per site. Claiming the best October opening ever (1994's Stargate had held that record with $16.6M), Antz, featuring the voices of Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, and Sylvester Stallone, performed better than Fox's debut toon from last year, Anastasia. That movie opened with $14.1M in 2,478 castles last November and finished its run with a respectable $58.4M.

DreamWorks was able to get Antz into theaters ahead of originally scheduled allowing it to hit consumers several weeks before Disney's computer-generated insect pic A Bug's Life which opens at Thanksgiving. The headstart gives Antz a major advantage as it will have the family crowd all to itself for a full month before the end-of-year bloodbath that finds Bugs, Rugrats, Babe II, Jack Frost, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Prince of Egypt, Mighty Joe Young and The Wizard of Oz reissue all attacking the same family audience in November and December.

Describing the film's across-the-board appeal, Jim Tharp, head of distribution at DreamWorks, reported that the opening weekend crowd for Antz was split evenly between family and non-family moviegoers and that the male/female ratio was 50/50 as well. Ticket sales for Antz surged a mighty 80% on Saturday compared to Friday.

Media analyst David Davis of Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin tracks the film industry and noted that similarly-themed movies have been released within months of each other in the past and will probably continue in the future. He stated that "usually the first film out of the gate has the advantage" as in the lava movies Dante's Peak and Volcano from last year, and Tombstone and Wyatt Earp from 1993-94. However, Davis pointed to the comet pics Deep Impact and Armageddon as examples of when the second film to reach consumers grosses more with both being successful overall.

What did Cuba Gooding Jr. say to Robin Williams when they met in the afterlife? Show me the money!! The former Mrs. Doubtfire landed in second place over the weekend with the glossy drama What Dreams May Come. The Polygram film, starring the two Oscar winners, debuted with a heavenly $15.8M and a hot-as-hell average of $6,268 per theater. Dreams, which follows the journey of a man who dies and searches for his wife in the afterlife, once again proved that Williams can draw a large crowd to both dramas as well as his trademark comedies.

The powerful debut of Dreams makes it the third best October opening ever. For Polygram, What Dreams May Come represented its biggest debut to date surpassing the $14.3M launch of last fall's The Game. Floating into 2,526 theaters, the supernatural tearjerker became the widest October opening ever. With a reported budget of about $85M, and an unconventional storyline, What Dreams May Come was a risky endeavour but so far it is paying off.

With Oscar finally in hand, Williams easily enjoyed his best opening for a serious film. While his previous dramas debuted in limited release and expanded nationwide in subsequent weeks, Polygram blanketed the marketplace with Dreams on the first weekend. Previous wide openings for the actor's dramas include $10.3M for Good Will Hunting, $8.3M for Awakenings, $7.5M for Dead Poets Society, and $7.1M for The Fisher King. It should be noted that compared to Dreams, Poets and Awakenings had higher opening averages of $10,976 and $6,479 respectively.

After dominating the box office for two weeks, New Line's cash cow Rush Hour slipped to third place amid tough competition from newcomers and grossed $14.5M. Off by just 32%, the Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker pic has kicked and punched its way to a cume of $84M in only 17 days. Rush Hour is now the sixth highest-grossing film from the New Line stable. For Chan, Rush Hour has already grossed about as much as his last five films combined. Collectively, Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, First Strike, Operation Condor, and Mr. Nice Guy have grossed $86.3M at the domestic box office.

Paramount has had mixed results with transforming skits from Saturday Night Live into feature-length motion pictures, but A Night at the Roxbury delivered well-needed good news. Taking in $9.6M over the weekend, the comedy about two brothers who are club-hopping fools opened better than other recent SNL-inspired films like Coneheads and the forgettable It's Pat and Stuart Saves His Family. Though far from attracting the kinds of crowds that the Wayne's World flicks did, Roxbury enjoyed a solid debut helped by an extensive promotional campaign.

The time was right for a new comedy since There's Something About Mary has monopolized the market for over two months now. In fact, Roxbury's launch was the best for a pure comedy since the Fox sleeper debuted in July. Opening in 1,865 nitespots, Roxbury averaged a groovin' $5,150 per location.

Rounding out the top five was Robert De Niro's action thriller Ronin. Despite glowing reviews from top critics, moviegoers were not as enticed as it fell 43% collecting $7.2M. After ten days, the MGM/UA crime film has heisted $23.9 and should top out at around $35-40M which would still make it the second highest-grossing movie for the studio this year after The Man in the Iron Mask's $57M. Ronin's overseas prospects still look promising given the film's international cast and setting. With no more major releases in the pipeline for 1998, MGM/UA can begin closing the books for the year and start preparing for 1999.

Sony's Urban Legend fell just 36% to finish the frame with $6.7M, raising its ten-day cume to $20.1M. The sophomore depreciation was uncharacteristically low for a horror film since fans tend to rush out on opening weekend to see them. By comparison, second weekend drops for some recent frightfests include 48% for Halloween: H20, 58% for Disturbing Behavior, and 58% for Scream 2. With the next slasher pic still about two weeks away, Urban Legend should continue to scare up strong business and finish with about $35M.

There's Something About Mary, as usual, enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten dipping just 23% to $3.4M. With an astonishing $158M in the bank, Mary stands as Fox's fifth highest-grossing film of the decade behind Independence Day ($306M), Home Alone ($286M), Mrs. Doubtfire ($219M), and Home Alone 2 ($173M).

The rest of the top ten included One True Thing with $2.7M, Saving Private Ryan with $1.7M, and Simon Birch which grossed $1.5M. Falling out of the top ten were Blade now at $66M in its seventh week, Rounders which is up to $21.6M in its fourth week, and Ever After, now in its tenth week, which has collected an impressive $62.6M in its glass slipper.

Debuting in selected markets, Fox Searchlight's The Imposters attracted a healthy $308,767 in 66 theaters for a $4,678 average. However, Artisan's horror pic Strangeland was not as lucky as it averaged a poor $1,185 per site with $373,288 in 315 cinemas.

In other box office news, The Hollywood Reporter stated that September grosses totaled a new high of $385.8M beating last year's previous record by an impressive 18.5%. A record 82.3 million tickets were torn during the month giving the frame a 15% boost in admissions over last year, and a gain of about 3% over the E.T. year of 1982 which had held the record until now. New Line's Rush Hour led the frame with $68.4M in just 13 days, and was helped by strong summer holdovers There's Something About Mary, Blade, and Saving Private Ryan.

Compared to projections, Antz opened extremely close to my $17M forecast while What Dreams May Come and A Night at the Roxbury opened stronger than my projections of $12M and $6M respectively.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Star Wars Episode 1 : The Phantom Menace. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Antz or A Bug's Life would gross more at the domestic box office. Of 1,456 responses, the voting was even with 50.4% saying A Bug's Life and 49.6% choosing Antz.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reviews the films of Robin Williams. Wednesday's new Rewind column will examine the biggest October openings of this decade. For reviews of Antz and What Dreams May Come visit Chief's Movie Review Page. 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.

The top ten films grossed a record $80.3M which was up 42% from last year when Kiss the Girls opened at number one with $13.2M, and up a hefty 82% from 1996 when The First Wives Club spent its third weekend at the top with $11M. The total for the top ten was the best since the weekend of August 7th and tops among any frames in September or October ever.

Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary of next weekend's activity when Eddie Murphy goes for the hat trick with Holy Man.

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

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

# Title Oct 2 - 4 Sep 25 - 27 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Antz $ 17,195,160 2,449 1 $ 7,021 $ 17,195,160 DreamWorks
2 What Dreams May Come 15,833,592 2,526 1 6,268 15,833,592 Polygram
3 Rush Hour 14,492,122 21,202,929 -31.7 2,701 3 5,365 84,014,663 New Line
4 A Night at the Roxbury 9,604,791 1,865 1 5,150 9,604,791 Paramount
5 Ronin 7,202,968 12,697,641 -43.3 2,487 2 2,896 23,881,479 MGM/UA
6 Urban Legend 6,707,512 10,515,444 -36.2 2,257 2 2,972 20,113,846 Sony
7 There's Something About Mary 3,396,357 4,430,566 -23.3 2,177 12 1,560 158,025,286 Fox
8 One True Thing 2,666,675 4,438,980 -39.9 1,630 3 1,636 17,313,885 Universal
9 Saving Private Ryan 1,674,034 2,511,565 -33.3 1,510 11 1,109 184,341,779 DreamWorks
10 Simon Birch 1,492,164 2,591,857 -42.4 930 4 1,604 13,858,379 BV
11 Blade 1,054,786 2,009,627 -47.5 1,388 7 760 65,982,804 New Line
12 Rounders 1,008,660 2,364,717 -57.3 1,475 4 684 21,598,076 Miramax
13 Ever After 796,325 1,315,700 -39.5 1,111 10 717 62,588,471 Fox
14 Everest (IMAX) 657,270 607,433 8.2 61 31 10,775 44,470,600 Freeman
15 Armageddon 505,724 951,613 -46.9 726 14 697 197,914,090 BV
16 Lethal Weapon 4 431,079 751,344 -42.6 901 13 478 128,741,321 WB
17 Pecker 379,618 541,646 -29.9 163 2 2,329 1,147,287 Fine Line
18 Strangeland 373,288 315 1 1,185 373,288 Artisan
19 A Soldier's Daughter 369,864 210,144 76.0 149 3 2,482 706,135 October
20 Doctor Dolittle 337,533 501,928 -32.8 600 15 563 142,206,330 Fox
Top 5 $ 64,328,633 $ 53,285,560 20.7
Top 10 80,265,375 64,079,026 25.3
Top 20 86,179,522 69,785,774 23.5

    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 : October 5, 1998 at 9:00PM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya