Weekend Box Office (November 20 - 22, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND The smell of diapers overtook moviegoers this weekend as the infant heroes of The Rugrats Movie conquered the box office with a commanding $27.3M opening weekend, according to final studio figures, to triumphantly land at number one. Playing in a very wide 2,782 cribs, the Paramount film averaged a superb $9,821 per theater. Modestly-budgeted at around $25M, Rugrats easily had the best opening for a non-Disney animated film ever and places fourth overall among debuts for toons behind The Lion King ($40.9M), Pocahontas ($29.5M), and Toy Story ($29.1M).

Based on the enormously popular children's program that airs on the Nickelodeon network, Rugrats successfully attracted kids as well as their parents allowing for both reduced-priced and full price admissions. Paramount virtually has a patent on the formula of turning television programs into profitable film franchises. Previous hits from the Viacom-owned studio have included Star Trek, The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, Mission: Impossible, and their respective sequels. Corporate synergy has played an important role in Paramount's product too as sister companies MTV and Nickelodeon have helped provide movies like Beavis and Butthead Do America, Good Burger, and of course Rugrats.

The Wednesday openings of Disney's A Bug's Life and Universal's Babe in the City should make it a crowded marketplace for the family audience as the holiday season gets under way but with the potent headstart displayed by Rugrats, it seems a safe bet that Paramount has given birth to a new theatrical franchise.

Enemy of the State, starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman, and Jon Voight, had a strong second-place opening chasing down a cool $20M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Under surveillance in 2,393 targets, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film averaged a powerful $8,374 per location. While not reaching the lofty heights of such recent November action thrillers as Ransom or Goldeneye, Enemy of the State did open louder than The Siege from earlier this month and last November's The Jackal. A mixture of good starpower, talented filmmakers, and a chase thriller plot all conspired to give the Tony Scott-directed picture a good bow. In fact the opening weekend gross was similar to the debut of the last collaboration between Bruckheimer, Scott, Buena Vista, and Hackman - Crimson Tide - which launched with $18.6M in May 1995 and finished with $91.4M. An open field for the action audience over the next few weeks should allow Enemy, which has earned good reviews, to attract solid returns.

Slipping to third place after two thirst-quenching weeks at number one was The Waterboy with $15.7M. Down 36%, the Adam Sandler comedy is proving itself to be a durable title and crossed the $100M mark on Sunday, its 17th day of release. That makes it the fastest November film to ever reach that level and did so even without the help of the busy Thanksgiving weekend. The Waterboy's staying power has proven that for some films, what the critics like and what the public wants can be two different things. The Buena Vista comedy looks headed to finish in the area of $140M - not bad for a movie that cost about $20M to produce. The Waterboy has become the eleventh release of the year to gross over $100M.

Off a heavy 48%, Universal's first of four holiday entries, Meet Joe Black, romanced $7.9M on its second date with moviegoers. The Martin Brest film, which stars Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Claire Forlani, has now taken in $26.4M in its first ten days of release. Very positive audience recommendations from last weekend were expected to give Black a slightly stronger sophomore frame, but it now looks on track to achieve about $50M at the domestic box office. With a reported production cost of $80-90M, the expensive three-hour film about Death on earth still has excellent prospects in international markets, especially Japan, where Brad Pitt is immensely popular. If released properly overseas, a $175M worldwide gross is certainly possible for Meet Joe Black.

Dropping 58% from its opening frame last weekend, Sony's I Still Know What You Did Last Summer hooked up with $7M pushing its ten-day cume to $26.2M. By comparison, last year's original grossed $32.8M during its first ten days. Horror sequels generally plummet in their sophomore frames since so much of the target audience goes on opening weekend. Scream 2 and Halloween: H20 had second-weekend dropoffs of 58% and 48% respectively. Look for I Still Know What You Did Last Summer to end its domestic run with about $45M which follows the industry rule-of-thumb which states that sequels gross about two-thirds of the original's tally.

Fox's final wide release of the year, The Siege, placed sixth with $3.6M upping its cume to $32.1M. Tumbling 56%, the terrorist action pic got hit hard by new competition from Enemy of the State. Disney's I'll Be Home For Christmas eased by 38%, grossing $2.4M in its second sleigh ride. With $6.9M stuffed in its stocking, the family film should finish with under $15M.

In what should be its final appearance in the top ten, the DreamWorks animated hit Antz got trampled by kids rushing to see The Rugrats and fell 42% to end the frame with $2.3M. With more major family films on the horizon, Antz should be able to complete its impressive domestic run with about $90M. New Line's Pleasantville took nineth place with about $2.2M raising its total to $34.7M.

Rounding out the top ten was Woody Allen's annual offering Celebrity from Miramax which attracted just $1.6M. The film's debut in 493 theaters was extremely wide for a picture from the veteran filmmaker as his films usually open in a small handful of arthouses in his native New York City and gradually expand in subsequent weeks. But with appearances by stars like Kenneth Branagh, Winona Ryder, and most notably Leonardo DiCaprio, Miramax went much wider, but failed to bring in a solid opening as it averaged just $3,221. Domestic grosses for Woody Allen's recent pictures include $10.7M for last year's Deconstructing Harry, $9.6M for 1996's Everyone Says I Love You, and $6.4M for 1995's Oscar-winning Mighty Aphrodite. None of those films ever played in as many theaters as Celebrity though.

Three films fell out of the top ten over the weekend. The reissue of The Wizard of Oz has grossed $12.7M in its third weekend and looks to finish with roughly $17M. New Line's Living Out Loud has climbed to $10.5M on its way to a possible total of $14M. And the Sandra Bullock-Nicole Kidman witch pic Practical Magic has conjured up $44.2M and is aiming to retire with just under $50M.

Elsewhere, A Bug's Life debuted at the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles in a special early engagement and set house records at the cinema. Grossing an enormous $291,121, according to estimates, the Disney insect pic will set new one-day benchmarks for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the El Capitan location, according to Buena Vista.

Fox Searchlight released its acclaimed film Waking Ned Devine in nine locations and collected a sturdy $148,971. Described by some as a geriatric Full Monty, Devine scored a Viagra-enhanced $16,552 per-theater average and is off to a promising start.

Compared to projections, The Rugrats Movie surged past my $15M forecast while Enemy of the State did not reach my $26M prediction. Holdover grosses for the weekend's other top films were generally close to my projections.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on A Bug's Life. In last week's survey, readers were asked how much Adam Sandler should get paid for his next comedy. Of 1,537 responses, 28% said under $10M, 39% voted $10-14M, 21% thought $15-19M, and 12% said $20M or more. Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on Universal Pictures' recent box office drought. This Wednesday's new column looks at the Thanksgiving weekend of 1995.

The top ten films grossed $90.1M which was up 19% from last year when Mortal Kombat: Annihilation opened at number one with $16.8M, and down 2% from 1996 when Star Trek: First Contact debuted at the top spot with $30.7M.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday (one day earlier due to the holiday) for a complete summary, including projections, for Thanksgiving weekend which will see the debuts of A Bug's Life, Babe in the City, Home Fries, Very Bad Things, and Jerry Springer's Ringmaster.

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

# Title Nov 20 - 22 Nov 13 - 15 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 The Rugrats Movie $ 27,321,470 2,782 1 $ 9,821 $ 27,321,470 Paramount
2 Enemy of the State 20,038,573 2,393 1 8,374 20,038,573 BV
3 The Waterboy 15,707,537 24,431,129 -35.7 2,689 3 5,841 100,230,679 BV
4 Meet Joe Black 7,871,985 15,017,995 -47.6 2,511 2 3,135 26,431,815 Universal
5 I Still Know… 7,018,385 16,520,038 -57.5 2,443 2 2,873 26,221,525 Sony
6 The Siege 3,577,517 8,101,705 -55.8 2,438 3 1,467 32,059,634 Fox
7 I'll Be Home For Christmas 2,416,847 3,898,293 -38.0 1,776 2 1,361 6,907,442 BV
8 Antz 2,326,903 4,016,741 -42.1 2,002 8 1,162 84,175,780 DreamWorks
9 Pleasantville 2,246,978 3,675,133 -38.9 1,715 5 1,310 34,718,343 New Line
10 Celebrity 1,588,013 493 1 3,221 1,588,013 Miramax
11 The Wizard of Oz 1,404,455 3,269,630 -57.0 1,705 3 824 12,690,025 WB
12 American History X 1,340,166 232,374 476.7 512 4 2,618 2,231,929 New Line
13 Elizabeth 1,309,646 342,702 282.2 144 3 9,095 2,219,196 Gramercy
14 Living Out Loud 1,277,214 2,606,522 -51.0 1,087 4 1,175 10,529,980 New Line
15 Rush Hour 974,764 1,866,524 -47.8 1,229 10 793 131,219,124 New Line
16 Practical Magic 805,037 1,919,519 -58.1 1,541 6 522 44,218,648 WB
17 Life is Beautiful 754,522 852,187 -11.5 124 5 6,085 4,002,492 Miramax
18 There's Something About Mary 612,822 597,126 2.6 737 19 832 171,317,177 Fox
19 Belly 586,958 1,470,176 -60.1 498 3 1,179 8,267,681 Artisan
20 Vampires 583,378 1,665,164 -65.0 960 4 608 19,560,533 Sony
Top 5 $ 77,957,950 $ 68,087,608 14.5
Top 10 90,114,208 83,456,705 8.0
Top 20 99,763,170 92,894,132 7.4

    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 : November 23, 1998 at 9:00PM EDTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya