Weekend Box Office (November 6 - 8, 1998)
That sonic boom you heard over the weekend wasn't John Glenn's shuttle
returning from space. It was Adam Sandler making an enormous splash with
his out-of-this-world comedy smash The
Waterboy. The Buena Vista picture opened
triumphantly at number one with a mammoth $39.4M, according to final
studio figures, giving it the biggest November opening in history as well
as the largest debut for a film outside of the May-June-July summer period.
Accounting for 44% of all ticket sales in the top ten, the film about a
short-tempered waterboy recruited onto a college football team sacked moviegoers
on 2,664 gridirons giving it the best opening average of 1998 with a potent
$14,795 per theater.
The Waterboy certainly had enough hydrogen and oxygen to blast it into orbit as the Buena Vista title claimed the top live-action opening in the studio's history surpassing Armageddon's $36.1M thrust, and the second-best overall opening for the Disney family behind The Lion King's $40.9M. For the year, the Adam Sandler laugher stands as the third largest behind Godzilla and Deep Impact. After just three days of release, The Waterboy has already grossed more than most of the comedian's prior films including Happy Gilmore ($38.6M), Billy Madison ($25.5M), and Bulletproof ($21.2M). Sandler now joins the comedy elite as The Waterboy's opening has surpassed debut performances by titans like Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, and Robin Williams.
This $39.4M splash by The Waterboy is nothing short of remarkable. Originally slated for a September launch, the movie was backed by extensive advertising with its star making appearances on talk shows and specials. The ex-Opera Man, hot off the $80M-grossing hit The Wedding Singer, used his coattails to bring ticket buyers back to the box office at a time when overall sales were at critically low levels for two weeks. Despite weak reviews, The Waterboy used starpower as a magnet bringing in a wide range of consumers. With a reported production budget of just $19 million, the Adam Sandler film becomes a badly-needed hit for Buena Vista which has seen disappointing results from Beloved, Holy Man and Mafia! during the last few months. The distrib has more ammo in November with Enemy of the State and A Bug's Life.
Phil Barlow, president of distribution for Buena Vista, stated "we had very high expectations for this picture and its performance just blew them all away." The Waterboy's $16.07M gross on Saturday represented a new one-day record for the studio. Barlow reports that 80% of movie patrons said they would definitely recommend the film and that the male/female split was about 60/40 with a younger-skewing audience. Buena Vista is understandably excited about the opening of their picture and believes that the monster opening will be good for the industry as a whole since it expanded the marketplace over the weekend.
In addition to Adam Sandler's cajun grin, a number of new faces popped up in the top ten. Fox's action thriller The Siege opened in second place with $13.9M. Starring Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, and Bruce Willis, the movie about terrorism hitting New York City opened in 2,541 mosques and averaged a good $5,483 per theater. The Siege marks the third collaboration between Washington and director Edward Zwick after 1989's Glory (which won the actor an Oscar) and 1996's Courage Under Fire. For Washington, The Siege gave him the third best opening of his career trailing Crimson Tide's $18.6M launch and The Pelican Brief's $16.6M debut. Fox has the action thriller market to themselves for two weeks so long-term prospects for The Siege could be decent.
Slipping one spot to third was New Line's Pleasantville with $5.6M in its third week. Down just 19% from last weekend's Halloween-interrupted frame, the Gary Ross picture has grossed $26.2M to date and looks well on its way to becoming a moderate hit. Most films in the top ten generally saw modest declines compared to last weekend when the fright night fell on the normally busy Saturday.
The DreamWorks computer-animated bug pic Antz saw a rare 23% boost in business, despite competition for the family crowd from The Wizard of Oz, and grossed $5.6M. That brings the cume for the pic to an impressive $75M and gives it a fair chance of hitting the $100M mark by the end of its run.
Warner Bros. rereleased the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz over the weekend and took in a gross of $5.4M, according to estimates. Opening fifth in 1,879 locations (uncommonly wide for a reissue) the beloved family favorite averaged $2,850 per theater. Warner was hoping that moviegoers young and old would follow the yellow brick road to their local multiplex for a chance to see this polished screen gem. However, since The Wizard of Oz has always been readily available on network television and home video, it seemed that few wanted to pay a premium for the big screen experience.
Living Out Loud, starring Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah, expanded into nationwide release and earned $4.3M. Playing in 1,086 cinemas, the New Line flick placed sixth and averaged a sturdy $3,978 per site bringing its cume to $4.6M. The witchy women of Practical Magic attracted another $4.1M of business to take seventh place. The Warner Bros. picture's cume after its fourth weekend is now a solid $39.7M. Moviegoers drove a stake through the heart of John Carpenter's Vampires as the horror pic tumbled 57% from its number one debut last weekend finishing the frame with $3.9M. After ten days, the James Woods film has sucked $15.6M out of the box office and looks headed for a final tally of about $20-22M.
Artisan enjoyed the first top ten debut of its short revamped history as the urban action drama Belly locked up the number nine spot with $3.5M. The distributor formerly known as Live released the picture in just 600 sites and came away with the second best per-theater average in the top ten with $5,758. Directed by music video veteran Hype Williams, Belly stars best-selling hip hop artists DMX and Nas. The film's five-day gross since its Wednesday opening is $4.8M. Belly's strong debut caught some in the industry by surprise. Last week's Variety review of the film said "expect no showy B.O. numbers for this cinematic menace" while The Hollywood Reporter's weekend preview story on Friday failed to even mention the movie even though other limited releases were.
Rush Hour displayed another fabulous hold dipping only 13% and collecting $3.3M in its eighth stint in the top ten. With $127M in the bank, the Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker blockbuster nudges past Dumb and Dumber on Monday to become New Line's second highest-grossing movie ever behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which kicked up $133M in 1990. New Line has become known for its fists of fury as the distributor has hit martial arts gold before with hits like Mortal Kombat, Blade, and Turtles 2.
In limited release, Gramercy's Elisabeth ruled over nine locations in New York and Los Angeles and grossed $275,131 for a very noble average of $30,570. Miramax's glam rock saga Velvet Goldmine launched with $301,787 or a mediocre $3,550 in 85 sites. Gods and Monsters, from Lions Gate, debuted with $75,508 for a wicked $12,585 in just 6 theaters. The reception was much cooler for the 15th anniversary reissue of The Big Chill which corpsed and averaged a frigid $1,139 by grossing $56,968 in 50 sites.
The neo-nazi film American History X remained steady in its second weekend of limited release and grossed $153,225 (off just 2%) in 19 theaters for an average of $8,064 per site. Italy's Oscar contender Life is Beautiful continued its successful rollout and expanded to 110 cinemas taking in $837,093 for a strong $7,610 per location.
Dropping out of the top ten were Bride of Chucky (now at $29.7M), Beloved ($21.1M), Soldier ($13.3M), What Dreams May Come ($52.9M) and Apt Pupil ($8M). The flood of new product at the box office was just what the marketplace needed to jumpstart the lucrative holiday season. Ticket sales for the top ten films were at its highest level in three months. While November 1997 failed to top November 1996, this year the month looks to have enough firepower to set a new benchmark.
Compared to projections, The Waterboy's phenomenal opening more than doubled my $15M forecast. The Siege came in below my $17M prediction while The Wizard of Oz and Living Out Loud were both very close to my $5M projection for each.
Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Psycho. In last week's survey, readers were asked if The Siege would open with at least $18M. Of 2,131 responses, 31% believed it would while 69% did not.
Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which examines the accuracy of studio estimates during the month of October. This Wednesday's new column will report on the biggest opening weekends of November. For reviews of The Waterboy and The Siege visit Chief's Movie Review Page.
The top ten films grossed $88.9M which was up 31% from last year when Starship Troopers opened at number one with $22.1M, and also up 31% from 1996 when Ransom debuted at the top spot with $34.2M.
Be sure to check in again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Meet Joe Black attempt to dethrone The Waterboy.
Below are final studio figures for the weekend. Click on the title to jump to its official home page:
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.
Written by Gitesh Pandya