Weekend Box Office (November 12 - 14, 1999)

THIS WEEKEND The cartoon sensation Pokémon became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the box office world pocketing a monster gross in its North American debut. Four of the top five films over the weekend were new releases as the holiday movie season offered consumers plenty of options, though not all were enticing. Despite all the freshmen pictures cramming into the marketplace, most other movies experienced solid holdovers. Of the five debuting films, three were acquistions while the other two were homegrown at Fox.

Pokémon fever spread like an epidemic throughout theaters from coast to coast as the animated film Pokémon : The First Movie dominated the weekend box office with a staggering $31M opening over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures. Launching on Wednesday, the Warner Bros. title made off with a jaw-dropping $50.75M in its first five days of release setting a new five-day opening weekend record for the month of November. The previous benchmark was held by Disney's A Bug's Life which grossed $45.7M over the Wednesday-to-Sunday Thanksgiving frame a year ago. Playing in 3,043 theaters, the hit film averaged a sizzling $10,199 per venue. What makes Pokémon's enormous debut even more impressive is the fact that it opened on a regular weekend as opposed to the Turkey Day holiday when school children and their parents have a long weekend off so they can trek to the local cinema more easily.

Based on the Japanese cartoon, video game, and trading card sensation, Pokémon has taken over America as kids everywhere have become addicted to the pop culture phenomenon. Helping fuel sales, Warner Bros. added on the animated short Pikachu's Vacation to each show and gave each obsessed fan a Pokémon trading card making a trip to see the movie a real value for both parents and children. Unlike other feature films derived from popular kids items, Pokémon arrived in theaters as interest in the franchise was still red hot and growing. The sequel, Pokémon : Revelation Lugia, was a huge box office hit in Japan last summer and will be released domestically by Warner Bros. next summer.

Pokémon's Friday-to-Sunday total of $31M ranks as November's eighth largest opening ever and trails the three-day premiere figures for the Disney holiday films A Bug's Life ($33.3M in 1998) and 101 Dalmatians ($33.5M in 1996). Nevertheless, Pokémon delivered the biggest debut ever for a non-Disney animated film surpassing the $27.3M for The Rugrats Movie from last year. Warner Bros. inexpensively acquired the distribution rights to the Japanese toon and has hit the jackpot as Pokémon is sure to smash through the $100M barrier by the end of the month.

Last weekend's top choice, the crime thriller The Bone Collector, declined only 28% and took second place with $12M. Starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, the Universal release has brought in $35.2M in ten days and could be headed for an arresting final gross in the vicinity of $70M. Despite taking on five new films, The Bone Collector remained a very popular choice among movie fans.

Director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy) enjoyed a strong turnout for his fourth feature film, the religious comedy Dogma, which grossed $8.7M. Opening in a moderate 1,269 theaters, the Matt Damon-Ben Affleck starrer averaged a powerful $6,832 per site giving it the second highest per-theater average in the top ten. Produced for $10M, Dogma was originally based at Miramax until the company unloaded it due to the likelihood of protests from religious groups over the content. Lions Gate secured the distribution rights and is now well positioned for a successful domestic run. The impressive opening average beat out those for Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting when they expanded into national release. Amy scored $3,165 per location in April 1997 while Hunting, which also paired Damon and Affleck, averaged $5,742 per venue when it expanded nationwide in January 1998.

Lions Gate head Tom Ortenberg noted that Dogma performed best with young adults but played broader than expected scoring with other age groups as well. Metropolitan areas and college towns were the strongest geographic areas. The controversial film follows two fallen angels who exploit a loophole to get back into heaven and also stars Chris Rock, Linda Fiorentino, and Salma Hayek. Upbeat reviews, good word-of-mouth, and additional marketing support could lead to a sustained run at the box office in the weeks ahead.

Rough times continued for Sony as their adventure film The Messenger : The Joan of Arc Story opened with just $6.4M. Marching into 2,147 theaters, the Luc Besson-helmed pic averaged a less-than-stellar $2,963 per battle. Moviegoers may also have been deterred by the fact that just six months ago, CBS televised a lavish Joan of Arc movie of its own. The Messenger, which stars Milla Jovovich in the lead role, was acquired by Sony for North American distribution from the French production company Gaumont.

Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman starred in the mother-daughter story Anywhere But Here which opened in fifth place with $5.6M. The Oscar winner and the Queen of Naboo joined forces in 1,672 locations and averaged a mild $3,354 per theater. Fox hopes that good word-of-mouth will spread for Anywhere But Here allowing it to last through the holidays and into awards season.

Enjoying the second lowest decline in the top ten, The Insider starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe took sixth place with $5M. Buena Vista's dramatic thriller slipped 25% from its debut weekend and raised its ten-day gross to $14.1M. Directed by Michael Mann, The Insider should be able to reach $30-35M domestically and remains hopeful of Oscar attention.

Chris O'Donnell dropped to seventh place with The Bachelor which collected $4.7M in its second date with ticket buyers. Off a normal 38% from its debut, the New Line romantic comedy has taken in $14.5M in ten days and looks headed for a $25-30M final.

Moviegoers continued to flee The House on Haunted Hill as the horror entry fell another 44% (the largest drop in the top ten) to $4.3M for the weekend. The Warner Bros. film has grossed a decent $34.8M in 17 days.

Two of the biggest hits during the last several months rounded out the top ten. Double Jeopardy grossed $3M in its eighth frame boosting its cume to $108.7M. The Sixth Sense brought in $2.6M as its blockbuster total rose to $267.7M. Overseas, the Bruce Willis thriller should come within striking distance of $100M with this weekend's national expansion in the United Kingdom and strong holdovers in countries like Japan, Mexico, and Italy.

The explosive arrival of Pokémon makes the annual contest for studio market share a whole new game. Buena Vista, powered by The Sixth Sense and Tarzan, had a comfortable $100M year-to-date lead over Warner Bros. after last weekend but the $51M winfall by Pikachu and pals cut that advantage in half. Warners will close the gap much further between now and the Thanksgiving release of Disney's Toy Story 2 which will then allow the Mouse House to pull ahead once again. And don't count out third place Universal which trails Buena Vista by about $115M but still has Arnold Schwarzenegger's End of Days and Jim Carrey's Man on the Moon as end-of-year weapons making for what should be an exciting three-way battle for box office supremacy in 1999.

Opening outside of the top ten was Fox's urban high school drama Light It Up which grossed only $2.4M. Starring Usher Raymond and Judd Nelson, the pic debuted in 1,253 theaters and averaged a weak $1,922 per classroom. Light It Up has grossed a mere $3.1M since its Wednesday premiere.

The offbeat comedy Being John Malkovich expanded from 175 to 467 theaters and grossed $2.4M, up 26% from last weekend. The Spike Jonze film's cume has hit $6.1M while its average gross of $5,005 per theater remains quite good.

The pack of new releases pushed four other films out of the top ten over the weekend. Generating lots of Oscar buzz, American Beauty took in $2.4M pushing its total to a loving $62.7M. The $15M DreamWorks film continues to show durablility at theaters and will surpass $70M with ease and could rake in much more if it snags some major Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Another profitable entry, The Best Man, also collected $2.4M in its fourth frame boosting its cume to $27.6M. Produced for only $9M, Universal's Taye Diggs-starrer looks to conclude with $30-33M and continues to have the top selling soundtrack in the nation.

Meryl Streep's school teacher drama Music of the Heart may have drawn kudos for the actress' performance but audiences have not been as excited. With $10.8M in 17 days, the $22M Wes Craven-directed pic is likely to finish its run with a mild $15-17M. Fight Club, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, has grossed $34M thus far and should top out at $36-38M domestically. Fox's $65M gamble has entered a small number of overseas markets but has not been able to punch up many impressive results yet.

Compared to projections, Pokémon performed very powerfully as expected and debuted a few notches above my three-day forecast of $28M. Fellow freshmen Dogma, The Messenger, and Anywhere But Here were all within a million dollars of my respective predictions of $9M, $7M, and $6M. Light It Up, however, opened with just half of my $5M three-day projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Double Jeopardy. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether the new Pokémon movie would open with at least $20M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Of 2,357 responses, 58% correctly said yes while 42% thought no.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the biggest openings ever for animated films. For a review of Being John Malkovich visit The Chief Report.

The top ten films over the weekend grossed $83.3M which was even with last year when The Waterboy remained at number one with $24.4M, and up 32% from 1997 when The Jackal debuted on top with $15.2M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's explosive contest when the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough and Johnny Depp's Sleepy Hollow both debut.

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

# Title Nov. 12 - 14 Nov. 5 - 7 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Pokémon $ 31,036,678 3,043 1 $ 10,199 $ 50,754,104 Warner Bros.
2 The Bone Collector 12,010,225 16,712,020 -28.1 2,594 2 4,630 35,224,690 Universal
3 Dogma 8,669,945 1,269 1 6,832 8,669,945 Lions Gate
4 The Messenger 6,360,968 2,147 1 2,963 6,360,968 Sony
5 Anywhere But Here 5,607,137 1,672 1 3,354 5,607,137 Fox
6 The Insider 5,012,416 6,712,361 -25.3 1,833 2 2,735 14,099,850 Buena Vista
7 The Bachelor 4,660,221 7,480,288 -37.7 2,524 2 1,846 14,456,139 New Line
8 The House on Haunted Hill 4,338,390 7,711,699 -43.7 2,530 3 1,715 34,763,058 Warner Bros.
9 Double Jeopardy 3,022,419 4,326,785 -30.1 2,110 8 1,432 108,685,745 Paramount
10 The Sixth Sense 2,562,649 3,131,538 -18.2 1,418 15 1,807 267,741,966 Buena Vista
11 Light It Up 2,408,613 1,219 1 1,976 3,089,229 Fox
12 The Best Man 2,400,855 4,340,850 -44.7 1,053 4 2,280 27,647,725 Universal
13 American Beauty 2,371,304 3,324,526 -28.7 1,264 9 1,876 62,655,084 DreamWorks
14 Being John Malkovich 2,337,348 1,852,093 26.2 467 3 5,005 6,094,597 USA
15 Music of the Heart 1,881,288 2,821,480 -33.3 1,247 3 1,509 10,753,752 Miramax
16 Superstar 1,143,623 2,054,153 -44.3 1,383 6 827 28,007,456 Paramount
17 The Omega Code 1,014,404 1,012,551 0.2 450 5 2,254 9,250,361 Providence
18 Fight Club 997,154 2,423,069 -58.8 741 5 1,346 33,993,764 Fox
19 Bringing Out the Dead 615,071 1,906,535 -67.7 1,181 4 521 15,925,202 Paramount
20 Three Kings 604,648 1,657,497 -63.5 712 7 849 57,398,409 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 63,684,953 $ 42,957,218 48.3
Top 10 83,281,048 58,984,616 41.2
Top 20 99,055,356 72,548,093 36.5

Last Updated : November 15 at 10:00PM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya