Weekend Box Office (November 27 - 29, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND Buena Vista led a box office rally that took ticket sales to a new record level for the Thanksgiving holiday frame as A Bug's Life exploded on the scene while all other new releases opened with weak results. With three of the top four titles, the Mouse House accounted for a staggering 58% of all grosses for the top ten films. Marching into theaters nationwide, the Disney/Pixar film A Bug's Life took over the box office with a huge number one debut taking in $33.3M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final numbers, and a sizzling $45.7M over the five-day holiday frame. The computer-animated insect picture became the largest Thanksgiving opening in history edging out Disney's 1996 blockbuster 101 Dalmatians which debuted with $45.1M over the five-day period, but was not able to squeak past that film's $33.5M three-day gross. Add in the exclusive run at the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles and A Bug's Life's total gross to date is an amazing $46.1M.

The enormous opening weekend performance of A Bug's Life was no easy task since Buena Vista had to overcome two major hurdles. Though produced by the team that made 1995's blockbuster Toy Story, Bug's was still the second computer-drawn insect toon to hit theaters in two months. The DreamWorks hit Antz was popular with moviegoers and critics alike and has grossed a surprisingly strong $85.7M thus far prompting the industry to consider whether or not audiences would pay to see another film of the same type so soon. Also, A Bug's Life had to compete with The Rugrats Movie and Babe: Pig in the City for the family audience. Despite these obstacles, the Disney/Pixar film helped expand the marketplace and delivered a five-day opening 17% better than Toy Story which opened with $39.1M over the Wednesday-to-Sunday Thanksgiving weekend three years ago.

Launching in 2,686 theaters, A Bug's Life averaged a powerful $12,382 per location and nearly doubled the opening gross of Antz which took in $17.2M over its Friday-to-Sunday debut in October. The Bug's opening represents the second-best debut for an animated film ever behind Disney juggernaut The Lion King which roared with $40.9M when it opened in 1994. A Bug's Life's $33.3M debut also marks the sixth largest opening of the year. So far, all indications show that this film will be an extremely strong player through the rest of the holiday season and could very well reach the vicinity of Toy Story's massive $191.8M domestic gross.

Paramount's Rugrats, which arrived with a mammoth opening last weekend, slipped to second place with a strong $21M and $27.4M over the five-day holiday frame. Down 23%, the feature adaptation of the popular children's program has amassed an incredible $57.9M in only ten days of release. Despite Disney stealing the spotlight, Rugrats remained a strong force and could be headed for a $100M final tally which would outdistance its production budget of $25M. With a flood of revenue still to come from overseas theatrical, worldwide home video, and merchandising, the talking toddler toon is rapidly becoming an extremely profitable title for Paramount and will spawn a new franchise for the studio.

Will Smith was found running for his life in the third spot with Enemy of the State. The Jerry Bruckheimer action film grossed $18.1M over the weekend and $25.9M over the Wednesday-to-Sunday holiday frame. Off just 10%, the Buena Vista conspiracy thriller boosted its ten-day cume to a scorching $49.3M. Being the only action picture certainly helped the movie, but good reviews, solid word-of-mouth, and the starpower of the former Fresh Prince, Gene Hackman, Bruckheimer, and director Tony Scott also contributed to a stellar sophomore session. Enemy of the State stands a good chance of approaching the $100M mark if it can keep up the pace.

Buena Vista was all over the Thanksgiving feast as its blockbuster comedy The Waterboy finished fourth with $13.6M in its fourth weekend of release and $19.6M over the Wednesday-to-Sunday frame. Easing only 13%, the Adam Sandler laugher saw its cume surge to $122.2M and currently ranks as the tenth highest-grossing release of 1998 after just 24 days. Look for it to rise to the fifth spot by year's end.

Boasting three of the top four films this holiday weekend, Buena Vista sure had lots to give thanks for. With A Bug's Life, Disney has had the number one movie during Thanksgiving weekend for five consecutive years beginning with 1994's The Santa Clause, and continuing with Toy Story, 101 Dalmatians, and Flubber. The studio stands an excellent chance of keeping the streak alive into the new millenium with Toy Story 2 which opens next Thanksgiving. Buena Vista spokesman Chuck Viane noted that the distributor took in an estimated $67M in ticket sales for its films this weekend setting a new company record for the Friday-to-Sunday period. Its five-day cumulative haul was an incredible $95M and helped close the gap between it and year-long market share leader Paramount.

The Thanksgiving weekend domination by Buena Vista was a critical blow to Paramount's box office lead for 1998. According to Variety, the difference between the two studios stood at roughly $140M as of November 22. But one week later, the deficit got cut in half due to the holiday strength of Buena Vista's three titles. As of November 30, Paramount will have reached the $1 billion mark while Buena Vista will remain within striking distance with $930M in ticket sales this year.

Limping into fifth place was Universal's expensive swine sequel Babe: Pig in the City with a disappointing debut of only $6.2M and a five-day gross of $8.2M. Launching in 2,384 farms, the family film which featured talking animals averaged only $2,585 per theater. With its budget reportedly as high as $80M, the studio needed a meatier opening to have any chance of turning a profit. The original Babe opened stronger with a $8.7M debut in August 1995 and went on to have legs and finish with $63.7M. Pig in the City marks yet another commercial hardship for Universal which has suffered one of its worse years at the box office ever. The studio bravely marched into battle against A Bug's Life and Rugrats this holiday weekend hoping there would be room for three family films to survive, but moviegoers mostly ignored Babe.

The movie studio's troubles led to the ousting of Universal Studios Chairman and CEO Frank Biondi, Jr. two weeks ago after another expensive film, Meet Joe Black, opened with disappointing results. Now, Universal Pictures Chairman and CEO Casey Silver has resigned in the wake of Babe's poor showing. Whether his resignation was voluntary or "suggested" by parent company Seagram was not revealed. Universal releases another high-profile picture this Friday (Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho) which could lead to more pink slips if it fails to attract ticket buyers.

Two November leftovers placed sixth and seventh at the box office this weekend. Universal's Brad Pitt romantic drama Meet Joe Black fell 27% and grossed $5.8M pushing its total to $35.8M. Sony's teen horror sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer collected $4.5M raising its cume to $33.5M.

The remaining new releases opened poorly picking up a few scraps wherever they could. Home Fries, starring Drew Barrymore, opened in eighth place with a poor $3.8M weekend gross, a $5.3M five-day take, and a stale $1,966 average. The Warner Bros. film, promoted as a tender romantic comedy aimed at young women, failed to capitalize on the rising starpower of Barrymore whose previous films this year, Ever After and The Wedding Singer, both outperformed expectations. Its dark storyline about murder and revenge, which was not mentioned in trailers and commercials, probably did not help any.

Gramercy's period piece Elizabeth continued its successful nationwide expansion and landed in the top ten with $3.4M. The royal costume drama moved into a total of 516 castles and averaged a sturdy $6,572 per theater and raised its wealth to $7M.

Talk show host Jerry Springer graduated, without honors, to the big screen in Ringmaster, a fictional tale based on his popular daytime program. Artisan released the picture in 1,312 locations and came up with just $3.3M and a per-theater average of $2,549. Over the five-day holiday frame, Ringmaster earned $5M. For a relatively low cost film, its debut is not too bad.

Polygram's Very Bad Things grossed $3.2M over the weekend and $4.7M during the Wednesday-to-Sunday Thanksgiving frame. Playing in 1,260 graves, the black comedy which stars Christian Slater, Jon Favreau, and Cameron Diaz, averaged $2,576 per bachelor party and landed in eleventh place.

Keeping with holiday tradition, moviegoers spent their time and money on upbeat fun films while rejecting movies with darker tones. Studios will probably learn not to release so much new product over the Thanksgiving weekend in the future. Although the marketplace will expand, there won't be enough room for all the newcomers to survive.

Compared to projections, A Bug's Life scored better than my $27M forecast. Most others opened below my predictions of $12M for Babe, $12M for Home Fries, and $6M for Very Bad Things. Ringmaster was close to my $3M projection while sophomore holdovers Rugrats and Enemy of the State were both just a notch off from my forecasts of $22M and $17M respectively.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on December's new films. In last week's survey, readers were asked if A Bug's Life would open bigger than 1995's Toy Story. Of 1,670 responses, 56% said yes while 44% voted no.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which looks at the Thanksgiving weekend box office of 1995. This Wednesday's new column will report on December's biggest openings. For a review of A Bug's Life visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

For a look at how movies have performed during this holiday in years past, check the Top 20 Thanksgiving Weekend Films of the 1990s which lists the best Friday-to-Sunday grosses for movies playing over the turkey frame during this decade.

The top ten films grossed a holiday record $112.9M which was up 19% from last year when Flubber opened at number one with $26.7M, and up 6% from 1996 when 101 Dalmatians debuted at the top spot with $33.5M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when the remake of Psycho opens.

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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 27 - 29 Nov 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 A Bug's Life $ 33,258,052 $ 291,121 2,686 2 $ 12,382 $ 46,111,456 BV
2 The Rugrats Movie 21,010,116 27,321,470 -23.1 2,823 2 7,442 57,851,991 Paramount
3 Enemy of the State 18,114,221 20,038,573 -9.6 2,435 2 7,439 49,311,692 BV
4 The Waterboy 13,601,032 15,707,537 -13.4 2,782 4 4,889 122,210,105 BV
5 Babe: Pig in the City 6,162,640 2,384 1 2,585 8,200,515 Universal
6 Meet Joe Black 5,786,830 7,871,985 -26.5 2,527 3 2,290 35,769,895 Universal
7 I Still Know… 4,461,455 7,018,385 -36.4 2,473 3 1,804 33,501,244 Sony
8 Home Fries 3,784,023 1,925 1 1,966 5,313,518 Warner Bros.
9 Elizabeth 3,391,187 1,309,646 158.9 516 4 6,572 6,958,276 Gramercy
10 Ringmaster 3,344,022 1,312 1 2,549 5,002,893 Artisan
11 Very Bad Things 3,245,853 1,260 1 2,576 4,657,574 Polygram
12 The Siege 2,498,458 3,577,517 -30.2 1,676 3 1,491 36,203,435 Fox
13 I'll Be Home For Christmas 1,678,703 2,416,847 -30.5 1,743 2 963 9,427,447 BV
14 Pleasantville 1,204,095 2,246,978 -46.4 1,089 5 1,106 36,720,568 New Line
15 Celebrity 1,026,750 1,588,013 -35.3 493 1 2,083 3,311,714 Miramax
16 American History X 989,684 1,340,166 -26.2 513 4 1,929 4,001,063 New Line
17 Antz 952,899 2,326,903 -59.0 1,280 8 744 85,695,084 DreamWorks
18 Life is Beautiful 871,072 754,522 15.4 124 5 7,025 5,248,338 Miramax
19 There's Something About Mary 659,473 612,822 7.6 608 19 1,085 172,343,146 Fox
20 Everest (IMAX) 643,079 547,250 17.5 59 39 10,900 52,743,930 Freeman
Top 5 $ 92,146,061 $ 77,957,950 18.2
Top 10 112,913,578 90,114,208 25.3
Top 20 126,683,644 99,763,170 27.0

    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 30, 1998 at 9:00PM ESTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya