Weekend Box Office (December 25 - 27, 1998)

THIS WEEKEND Theaters were overflowing with yuletide cheer as four new releases, plus some strong holdovers, powered the box office to new heights. Patch Adams led the top ten films to a staggering gross of $126.5M - a new box office record for a regular three-day weekend. The marketplace expanded to incredible levels as a historic seven films collected over $10M each. All three top films aimed for adults by combining Oscar-winning actors with blockbuster directors, and ticket buyers indicated that there was room for all of them to survive.

Call him the box office savior this Christmas weekend. Robin Williams once again proved how valuable he is to a film and how much the public loves him with his latest comedy Patch Adams. The film about a medical student who uses humor to help heal patients opened with an enormous $25.3M, according to final studio figures. Adams helped stop the massive hemorrhaging at Universal Pictures in the process. The studio has had one of the worst years on record never having a movie reach number one until this final weekend of the year. Patch Adams gave Universal its best opening since The Lost World which opened over 19 months ago. Playing in 2,712 hospital wards, the Robin Williams film averaged a stunning $9,315 per theater.

Many factors contributed to the successful launch of Patch Adams. Director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekerk put together a delightful picture that allowed Williams to showcase his comic genius. The studio put together trailers and commercials that focused on the humor which is what movie fans want to see this time of year. The Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor certainly helped too. With these forces working for it, Patch Adams delivered the largest Christmas opening ever, the third biggest December opening (after Scream 2 and Titanic), and the second best debut for Robin Williams (behind Flubber).

Patch Adams also cements Shadyac's stature as one of the most successful comedy directors in the business. His previous works have been Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, and Liar, Liar which collectively have grossed over $675M worldwide. After directing Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, and now Robin Williams in blockbuster hits, could Adam Sandler be next on his agenda? Only time will tell. With no new releases next weekend, Patch Adams should be the dominant force over the lucrative holiday season and may hold steady in January when the Golden Globes choose their winners. It looks like Universal will have a happy new year after all.

Meanwhile, Williams' Hook co-star Julia Roberts, along with Susan Sarandon, laughed and cried their way to the bridesmaid spot with a powerful $19.1M debut for Stepmom, according to estimates. The Sony film opened in 2,358 theaters and averaged a fantastic $8,118 per site. Stepmom gives Roberts the third-best debut of her career after the $21.7M opening of My Best Friend's Wedding from June 1997, and the $19.3M debut of Conspiracy Theory from the same summer. Stepmom's launch was also the third best for Sony this year and the second biggest Christmas opening ever, behind Patch Adams.

Despite having so many competitors fighting for the attention of adults, Stepmom was able to rise above and score an impressive opening. The starpower of Roberts, Sarandon, and Ed Harris certainly contributed to the successful launch of the Chris Columbus-directed picture. Roberts proved once again why she stands as Hollywood's highest-paid actress. With such a strong start, and more holiday moviegoing to come, Stepmom has a good chance of becoming the pretty woman's sixth $100M blockbuster.

According to Jeff Blake, head of distribution for Sony, Stepmom's opening weekend audience was 60% female and 55% were under 30. Audience scores were very good as 85% of those surveyed said they would highly recommend it. For women, that figure jumped to 93%.

Yet another mature holiday film took third place. Last weekend's top movie, You've Got Mail, slipped two spots but grossed just 2% less with $18.1M. With its ten-day cume now up to $47.4M, the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romantic comedy looks like a definite candidate for the $100M club. The race is now on between Hanks and Robin Williams to be the first star to have seven $100M+ blockbusters in the 1990s. Who will reach that mark first? Stay tuned.

The Prince of Egypt performed well in its sophomore weekend and inched up 4% from last weekend's gross to collect $15.1M over the Christmas weekend. With $40.1M buried in its tomb after ten days, Prince should have no problem reaching at least $90M and could very well be crowned a $100M blockbuster by the end of its run. That would make the $70M-budgeted epic the first non-Disney animated film to reach the century mark at the domestic box office.

Opening their lesson plans in fifth, The Faculty scored a gross of $11.6M in its first class with students. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, and written by Kevin Williamson, the sci-fi/horror film about high school students who think that their teachers are aliens landed in 2,365 locations and averaged $4,919 per site. While the opening was not as big as many had expected, The Faculty still has a sizable play period ahead of it when its core audience of teens and young adults are out of school and seeing movies. With eight horror films released in the last five months, the genre seems to have gotten out of control and ticket buyers are responding accordingly.

That gorilla in the window was none other than Mighty Joe Young, from Disney, which debuted with $10.6M worth of bananas. Fleeing poachers in 2,502 jungles, this remake, starring Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton, averaged a healthy $4,237 per theater. About two-thirds of the audience comprised of the family crowd. Despite a flood of family films in recent weeks, Joe was still able to reach a respectable amount of moviegoers and should enjoy solid earnings through the holiday period. With a big investment in special effects, the budget for Joe is estimated at $70M.

Disney and Pixar's A Bug's Life placed seventh with $10.1M pushing its cume to a wonderful $114.5M. Amazingly, the computer-animated insect pic is still running about even with Toy Story from 1995 which had grossed $115.7M by the end of Christmas weekend (which ended on a Monday). With schools closing for the holidays, A Bug's Life saw a surge in midweek business and crossed the $100M mark on Tuesday December 22nd becoming the twelfth release of 1998 to join that club. A number of promising titles currently in the top ten could bring that total to as high as seventeen for the year.

Star Trek: Insurrection was busy seeking out strange new worlds in eighth place and took home $7.3M. Down just 12%, the Paramount franchise film pushed its cume to $47.7M and could finish its theatrical trek in the vicinity of $70M. Another action entry, Enemy of the State, was in ninth place with $5.3M. The Will Smith thriller saw a boost of nearly 11% from last weekend and increased its total gross to $87.5M. Look for the former fresh prince's latest hit to reach $100M in early January. Rounding out the top ten was Jack Frost with $3.9M.

Four movies left the top ten this holiday weekend. The Rugrats Movie grossed $2.7M (down 7%) and has reached a cume of $82M. Adam Sandler's The Waterboy washed up $2.3M (down 26%) pushing its overall take to $145.6M. Universal's Psycho has now earned $20M while Gramercy's critically-acclaimed costume drama Elizabeth has grossed $14.6M to date.

A handful of pictures opened in selected cities over the Christmas weekend. Fox's much-anticipated war drama The Thin Red Line attacked five cinemas and grossed $223,548 for an astounding average of $44,710 per site. John Travolta's A Civil Action commanded $70,079 in just two theaters for a thrilling $35,040 average per site. That film expands nationwide on January 8th. Hurlyburly debuted in 16 theaters with a $164,826 take for a strong average of $10,302. Fine Line stablemate The Theory of Flight earned just $15,000 in five theaters. Finally, Miramax's Down in the Delta, from poet-turned-director Maya Angelou, debuted with $1.6M in 416 locations for a mild average of $3,934 per theater.

With the year rapidly coming to a close, Buena Vista widened its lead over Paramount in annual box office sales. Powered by the family films Mighty Joe Young and A Bug's Life, the Disney empire now sits about $28M ahead of Paramount when measuring the box office year which ends next Sunday January 3rd.

Compared to projections, Patch Adams and Stepmom both exceeded my forecasts of $16M and $14M respectively. You've Got Mail and The Prince of Egypt were both close to my predictions of $17M and $14.5M. And debuts for The Faculty and Mighty Joe Young were also near my projections of $13M and $10M respectively.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on your moviegoing habits for the year. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether they thought the quality of movies has gotten better compared to ten years ago. Of 1,579 responses, 55% said yes while 45% stated no.

Be sure to read the Weekly Rewind column which reports on the Christmas box office of 1992. This Wednesday's new column looks back at all the number one movies of the year. For a review of Patch Adams visit Chief's Movie Review Page.

The top ten films grossed a record $126.5M which was up 5% from last year when Titanic was number one with $35.5M, and up a sizzling 41% from 1996 when Michael debuted in first place with $17.4M.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for the busy New Year's weekend box office.

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

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

# Title Dec 25 - 27 Dec 18 - 20 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 Patch Adams $ 25,262,280 2,712 1 $ 9,315 $ 25,262,280 Universal
2 Stepmom 19,142,440 2,358 1 8,118 19,142,440 Sony
3 You've Got Mail 18,101,967 18,426,749 -1.8 2,756 2 6,568 47,439,770 Warner Bros.
4 The Prince of Egypt 15,119,107 14,524,321 4.1 3,218 2 4,698 40,058,288 DreamWorks
5 The Faculty 11,633,495 2,365 1 4,919 11,633,495 Miramax
6 Mighty Joe Young 10,602,042 2,502 1 4,237 10,602,042 BV
7 A Bug's Life 10,126,455 9,987,932 1.4 2,456 6 4,123 114,492,154 BV
8 Star Trek: Insurrection 7,304,179 8,310,203 -12.1 2,677 3 2,728 47,734,318 Paramount
9 Enemy of the State 5,295,377 4,786,789 10.6 1,505 6 3,519 87,486,865 BV
10 Jack Frost 3,903,021 5,106,442 -23.6 2,142 3 1,822 22,518,287 Warner Bros.
11 The Rugrats Movie 2,666,292 2,859,389 -6.8 2,225 6 1,198 82,015,627 Paramount
12 Shakespeare in Love 2,609,894 340,495 666.5 295 3 8,847 3,589,742 Miramax
13 The Waterboy 2,332,774 3,140,587 -25.7 1,281 8 1,821 145,577,190 BV
14 Waking Ned Devine 1,664,179 432,364 284.9 259 6 6,425 3,875,646 Fox Searchlight
15 Down in the Delta 1,636,678 416 1 3,934 1,636,678 Miramax
16 Rush Hour 1,551,791 228,084 580.4 1,014 15 1,530 134,772,462 New Line
17 Life is Beautiful 988,234 616,260 60.4 224 10 4,412 9,434,954 Miramax
18 Elizabeth 854,052 931,078 -8.3 409 8 2,088 14,620,584 Gramercy
19 Antz 552,428 487,292 13.4 853 13 648 87,988,302 DreamWorks
20 Urban Legend 531,732 541 14 983 37,052,806 Sony
Top 5 $ 89,259,289 $ 56,355,647 58.4
Top 10 126,490,363 70,002,410 80.7
Top 20 141,878,417 75,195,904 88.7

    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 : December 28, 1998 at 9:15PM ESTHome

Written by Gitesh Pandya