Weekend Box Office (December 19 - 21, 1997)

THIS WEEKEND In one of the most eagerly-awaited battles of the year, James Cameron's Titanic edged out the James Bond picture Tomorrow Never Dies for the number one spot with each attracting enormous crowds. Final studio figures have Paramount's Titanic at $28.6M for the weekend (a full million dollars above the initial estimate) while the MGM/UA Bond movie stands at $25.1M (about a million dollars less than the Sunday estimate). Last weekend's top film Scream 2 was slaughtered by the new competition as it was hacked by 58%, tumbling to $13.9M. Overall, the top ten movies posted the largest non-summer, non-holiday weekend gross of 1997.

Titanic's opening is now the second-biggest December opener ever and Tomorrow Never Dies is the third-largest. December's biggest opening weekend remains to be last weekend's $33M debut of Scream 2, which Miramax revised from $39.2M. The tremendous openings of these three films have put an end to the notion that December releases can't open huge since most of the biggest debuts have been in the high teens. The top five December openings before this year have been : Beavis and Butthead Do America ($20.1M), Star Trek VI ($18.2M), Michael ($17.4M), Jerry Maguire ($17.1M), and The Pelican Brief ($16.6M). The record books will need some adjusting once this month is over.

Titanic's performance was spectacular considering its length at 194 minutes. Paramount secured the film in 2,674 ports and sailed away with a per-theater average of $10,710 - the best in the top ten. Its opening average was also better than those of other three-hour-plus movies (which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar) like 1995's Braveheart ($6,300) and 1990's Dances With Wolves ($9,100). It was by far the largest opening of any movie near the three-hour mark and beat the debut performance of Cameron's last film True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which grossed $25.9M in 2,368 theaters in July 1994. Paramount successfully beat the odds and scored a fantastic opening for a film that should have smooth sailing ahead.

Many elements contributed to Titanic's huge launch. There was no doubt that adding to the opening rush to see Titanic was its 8 Golden Globe nominations, best of any film this year, which were announced on the day before its release. Audiences were curious to see what James Cameron did to make the most expensive movie ever made. Hot young stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were big draws for teens and young adults and the romance story made it an event film for the date crowd. Titanic gave Paramount its biggest opening weekend of the year and could enable the studio to surge ahead of Warner Brothers for the third spot in the year's box office market share. Paramount's reported $65M investment for domestic distribution rights looks almost certain to pay off as the upcoming holiday weekend activity, strong word-of-mouth, and award consideration should all contribute to a prolonged domestic run that could see Titanic reach $150M. Fox, which foot the bill for the rest of the $200M production, will handle international distribution where the film is also likely to be a huge blockbuster. For a review of Titanic visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

Landing in a close second place, the 18th James Bond installment Tomorrow Never Dies grossed a powerful $25.1M in ultrawide release as MGM/UA opened it in 2,807 sites for a per-theater average of $8,957. Tomorrow, starring Pierce Brosnan, almost matched its predecessor Goldeneye's opening weekend of $26.2M from November 1995. Goldeneye eventually reached $106.4M domestically and $351M worldwide. What is remarkable about the figure for Tomorrow is that it achieved roughly the same amount of sales in a much more competitive weekend. Bond is still as popular as ever and the $100M marketing campaign which included several corporate sponsors made sure to push moviegoers into those theaters.

Tomorrow is also a desperately-needed blockbuster for its studio as MGM/UA has had only one major hit in the two years since Goldeneye - 1996's The Birdcage which grossed $124M. Next weekend's performance will show what kind of staying power the movie has, but after its first weekend Tomorrow Never Dies seems to have a good chance of hitting the $100M mark with overseas returns being much greater. Its first week in the United Kingdom has brought it a boffo $8.9M and it opened across much of Europe over this weekend as well. Look carefully and you'll see the franchise's signature in the studio's official opening gross for Tomorrow Never Dies ($25,143,007) as well as for 1995's Goldeneye ($26,205,007).

Larry Gleason, president of distribution for MGM/UA, stated that "Tomorrow Never Dies had a surprising and amazing opening and the marketplace clearly expanded due to the new pictures." He also estimated that the film skewed younger than Goldeneye with about 60% of the turnout being under 25. Gleason expects the promotional tie-ins to continue with the Bond franchise especially with companies that target a worldwide consumer base. According to Gleason, Tomorrow Never Dies has already collected $35.8M overseas as of Sunday night after a full week in the UK and new openings all across Europe. The new Bond picture is running 40-60% ahead of Goldeneye overseas after this weekend's debuts and broke all-time opening weekend records in Norway and Russia. Gleason believes that at this rate, Tomorrow Never Dies will surpass the $351M worldwide gross of 1995's Goldeneye. He also confirmed that the next James Bond film is slated for a November 1999 release with Pierce Brosnan returning as Agent 007.

How common is it to see two new movies open simultaneouly to the tune of $25M+ weekends? Well, it has never occurred before. The last time any two movies had weekend grosses of more than $25M was during Memorial Day weekend 1996 when Mission : Impossible debuted to $56.8M as Twister collected $38M in its third frame (both are four-day weekend totals). But never have two new releases entered the market and collected over $25M each on the same weekend. The huge openings of Titanic and Tomorrow Never Dies are further evidence that the box office will expand to new levels to accommodate more than one strong title.

Third place went to Scream 2 which was hammered by all the attention surrounding the two big new releases. The horror sequel grossed $13.9M in 2,663 theaters for a $5,228 average. In an unorthodox move, Miramax revised Scream 2's three-day opening gross for Dec 12-14 from $39.2M to $33M. A miscount put its theater total at 3,112 when it actually was 2,663. It seemed that all the hype and buildup led to most of its core audience turning out during its opening frame leaving little left for its sophomore session. After ten days, the Wes Craven-directed chiller has amassed a still-terrific $55.1M.

Opening in fourth place was the new family film from DreamWorks, Mouse Hunt, which stars Nathan Lane. With a $6.1M take, Mouse Hunt scurried into 2,152 houses for a so-so per-theater average of $2,928. The rodent film may be able to collect some modest returns during the holiday season, but does not look to be a major player any time soon. Rounding out the top five, Flubber fell just 37% and took in $4.3M to push its total to $64.3M to date.

In their sophomore frames, For Richer or Poorer dropped a healthy 44% while Home Alone 3 dipped by only 32%. Apparently, with a handful of films aimed at kids and families, box office dollars are being spread thin between all of them. Last weekend's other freshman, Steven Spielberg's Amistad, expanded from 322 to 480 theaters but was off 28% with a $3.3M weekend gross. Its per-theater average of $6,834, while third-best in the top ten, fell by a heavy 52% from last weekend questioning the slave ship picture's long-term prospects.

Exiting the top ten were Alien : Resurrection after 3 weeks with $44M, The Jackal after 5 weeks with $52M, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil after four weeks with $22M. Returning to theaters for another holiday engagement was Disney's The Little Mermaid which earned a puny $183,000 in 945 theaters for a microscopic average of just $194 per site. Meanwhile, L.A. Confidential used its award recognition and an extra 176 theater engagements to gross $507,000, up 48% from last weekend to bring its total gross to $36.5M.

Deconstructing Harry and Good Will Hunting continued to show solid results in limited release. Harry averaged $27,268 in 10 theaters and Hunting averaged $18,037 in 11. In its 13th week of release, Fox Searchlight's The Ice Storm averaged $1,397 in 106 locations and looks to be a victim of bad distribution which never allowed it to reach its potential.

For the weekend, my projections were too conservative as Titanic and Tomorrow Never Dies went well beyond my forecasts of $14M and $16M respectively. Interest in both films was greater than I had expected and holiday shopping did not seem to disturb moviegoing as much as predicted. Mouse Hunt opened close to my $7M projection while Scream 2 dropped harder than my 35-40% prediction.

Overall, the top ten films grossed $91.2M which was up 28% from last year and up 20% from 1995's four-day weekend. Be sure to check in again on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for the long Christmas holiday weekend when new movies such as Jackie Brown, The Postman, and As Good As It Gets will open.

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

# Title Dec 19 - 21 Dec 12 - 14 % Chg. Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Titanic $ 28,638,131 1 $ 10,710 $ 28,638,131 Par.
2 Tomorrow Never Dies 25,143,007 1 8,957 25,143,007 MGM
3 Scream 2 13,921,565 33,000,000 -57.8 2 5,228 55,081,458 Miramax
4 Mouse Hunt 6,062,922 1 2,817 6,062,922 Dream.
5 Flubber 4,277,276 6,779,130 -36.9 4 1,638 64,286,387 BV
6 Home Alone 3 3,470,352 5,085,482 -31.8 2 1,563 9,413,597 Fox
7 For Richer or Poorer 3,360,870 6,015,970 -44.1 2 1,746 10,871,465 Univ.
8 Amistad 3,280,336 4,573,523 -28.3 2 6,834 9,674,595 Dream.
9 Anastasia 1,664,967 3,031,625 -45.1 6 842 44,429,716 Fox
10 The Rainmaker 1,415,492 3,330,234 -57.5 5 949 41,557,447 Par.
Top 5 $ 78,042,901 $ 55,454,105 40.7
Top 10 91,234,918 69,165,061 31.9

    This column is updated three times each week : Thursday (upcoming weekend's summary), Sunday (post-weekend analysis with estimates), and Monday night (actuals). Source : Variety, EDI. Opinions expressed in this column are those solely of the author.

    Last Updated : December 22, 1997 at 7:55PM EST