'Twas the weekend before Christmas, and all through the movie house, all the kids were eager, to see the talking mouse.
As usual, movie attendance was soft during the final holiday shopping weekend of the year. The box office was dominated by two rodents: one of them the little talking mouse who stars in Columbia Pictures' G-rated "Stuart Little," the other, the ubiquitous Disney mouse, which had three films in the weekend's top five.
In its opening weekend, "Stuart Little," an adaptation of the popular, half-century-old book by E.B. White featuring the voice of Michael J. Fox as the titular creature, grossed an estimated $15.4 million in 2,878 theaters, and it had the highest per-theater average of any movie in wide release at $5,351. Although a $15 million gross won't set any records, studio officials are pleased that the film opened strong during the pre-Christmas weekend, which is typically slow, said Jeff Blake, Columbia president of worldwide distribution.
"Clearly, for a family film to open this well in the doldrums of the holiday season bodes very well," Blake said Sunday morning.
"No film that appeals to the whole family has opened this well and not done $100 million," he added, noting that other kid pics have had lower opening-weekend grosses and gone on to hit the $100 million mark, such as Columbia-TriStar's "Jumanji" (1995), which made just $11 million during its first weekend.
Blake added that "Stuart Little," with all of its ancillary merchandising -- it is currently the featured window display at New York's tony FAO Schwartz toy store -- should do even better once school lets out for Christmas vacation.
"Business from here on in figures to be great, so we're thrilled that we did get off to this kind of level. It shows that 'Stuart Little' has franchise potential, and $15.4 million is quite good, especially when you have to get ahead of 'Toy Story 2' to do it."
For the second weekend in a row, the No. 2 film at the box office was the decidedly nonchild-oriented "The Green Mile," the R-rated drama from Warner Bros. And Castle Rock Entertainment that stars Tom Hanks as a death row prison guard who befriends a condemned man gifted with healing powers, adapted from Stephen King's serial novels. "The Green Mile" pulled in $12.63 million on 2,875 screens in its second weekend of release, for an average of $4,383 per theater and a cumulative estimated gross of $36.5 million.
Movies from the Disney studios occupied the third, fourth and fifth ranks at the box office this weekend, not surprisingly led by "Toy Story 2." The G-rated animated feature, a co-production of Disney's Buena Vista Entertainment division and Pixar Animation, continued to perform strongly in its fifth week of release, grossing an estimated $12.1 million in 3,228 theaters for a per-screen average of $3,733.
"Toy Story 2" has now grossed an estimated $156.3 million to date. The picture, which features the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris and R. Lee Ermey, is expected to top out somewhere from $250 million to $275 million, an industry distribution executive said.
The original "Toy Story" grossed about $190 million in the United States and Canada in 1995 and about $360 million worldwide and sold more than 22 million videocassettes in the United States. If "Toy Story 2" hits $200 million before the end of the year, Buena Vista will become the first-ever distributor to have two $200 million-grossing films in the same calendar year ("The Sixth Sense" passed $200 million in September and has now grossed more than $275 million in 20 weeks of release).
The fourth-best grossing film of the weekend was "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," the R-rated comedy from Buena Vista/Touchstone that stars "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Rob Schneider as a bumbling male prostitute. The film apparently has stronger legs than may have been expected, grossing an estimated $8.3 million in 2,162 theaters, with a per-screen average of $3,843, a drop-off of about 32 percent. "Deuce" has now grossed about $24 million in two weeks.
Tied for fourth (although it had a lower per-screen average than "Deuce") was "Bicentennial Man," the new PG-rated sci-fi family fantasy produced by Disney's Buena Vista division and featuring Robin Williams and director Chris Columbus, the talents behind the hit comedy "Mrs. Doubtfire." "Bicentennial Man" played in 2,518 theaters during its opening weekend, grossing an estimated $8.3 million for a per-screen average of $3,302.
That's far less than "Patch Adams," another family oriented feature starring Williams, which opened in December 1998 and grossed $25.2 million during its first weekend, averaging more than $9,300 per screen.
"We're pretty excited to have third-, fourth- and fifth-best grossing films of the weekend. No other company has done that this year," said Chuck Viane, Buena Vista distribution president. "Obviously, this has set us up very well through the holidays.
"Every day between now and New Year's Day is a bigger grossing day, so obviously we're very happy."
Despite the soft opening for "Bicentennial Man," which reportedly cost about $100 million to make and features a futuristic story, high-tech special effects and Williams portraying a sympathetic robot that longs to become human, Viane said Disney is not worried.
"Not at all, I think it's a wonderful start," he said. "You've got to figure our core audience is a bit predisposed to the holiday shopping and all that. I think you'll see a building of momentum, and then the day after Christmas, watch out."
As for the lingering success of "Deuce Bigalow," Viane added: "It's the only picture out there for its core audience. They are not being distracted by any other competitive films. I think it's got a free ride through the whole holidays."
In its opening weekend, 20th Century Fox's "Anna and the King," starring Academy Award winner Jodie Foster and Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat, placed sixth with $5.1 million in 2,134 theaters for a $2,390 per-screen average. That's comparable to the last Jodie Foster vehicle to open during the holidays, "Nell," which premiered in December 1994 and made $4.6 million during its opening weekend.
By comparison, "Contact," which opened in July 1997, made more than $20 million during its opening weekend and went on to gross more than $100 million total, and "Maverick," which opened in May 1994, made $17.2 million during its opening weekend and eventually grossed more than $101 million.
"It's a lot less than we expected. The whole business was slow this weekend, when the adults are finished shopping and when they start going back to the theaters next weekend, then we'll see what happens," Tom Sherak, 20th Century Fox Domestic Film Group chairman said on Sunday.
MGM's PG-13-rated "The World is Not Enough" dropped from fourth to seventh at the box office, earning an estimated $4 million at 2,625 theaters for an average of $1,524 per screen, a decline of about 35 percent compared with the previous week. The 19th James Bond feature, which stars Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007, has grossed a cumulative total of $105.3 million in its five weeks of release.
The No. 8 film at the box office was "Sleepy Hollow," the R-rated gothic retelling of the Headless Horseman saga from Paramount Pictures and director Tim ("Batman") Burton, which dropped from sixth place the previous weekend. "Hollow" grossed $3 million in 2,564 theaters for a per-screen average of $1,170, a drop-off of 36 percent. The $80 million movie has grossed an estimated $85.9 million since it was released five weeks ago.
Dropping from fifth to ninth was Universal's apocalyptic, millennium-themed R-rat d thriller "End of Days" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gabriel Byrne and directed by Peter Hyams. "Days" pulled in $2.9 million in 2,460 theaters for a per-screen average of $1,179, a drop-off of 39 percent. The film, which cost anywhere from $80 million to $150 million according to contradicting published reports, has grossed an estimated $57.8 million in four weeks of release.
Rounding out the top 10 was "The Bone Collector," Universal's R-rated serial-killer thriller starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, which dropped from the No. 7 spot the previous weekend. "The Bone Collector," which has grossed about $62.4 million in the seven weeks since it was released, grossed an estimated $1 million at 1,115 theaters, for a per-screen average of $897, a drop-off of 41 percent.
Weekend 51 also saw the arrival of New Line's "Magnolia," the new film by director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Hard Eight") and starring an ensemble cast that includes Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore and William H. Macy. The three-hours-plus movie opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles for Academy Award consideration and pulled in $184,000 in seven theaters for a per-screen average of $26,286.
Also making its debut in limited fashion this week was USA Films' "Topsy-Turvy," a film by acclaimed director Mike Leigh ("Secrets and Lies") about the lives of writer-composer team Gilbert and Sullivan and starring Allan Corduner, Dexter Fletcher, Sukie Smith, Roger Heathcott and Wendy Nottingham. "Topsy-Turvy" grossed $29,891 at two theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a per-screen average of $14,946.
Box office returns were not immediately available for two other films that opened in Los Angeles for Oscar consideration: Samuel Goldywn Films' "Onegin," starring Ralph Fiennes, Liv Tyler and Martin Donovan and Fine Line Features' "Simpatico," starring Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte, Catherine Keener and Albert Finney.
Overall, weekend 51's key films (those grossing about $500,000 and up) took in approximately $74 million, compared with about $71 million for the key film grosses of weekend 50, an increase of about 4 percent. Compared with the same weekend last year, when key films grossed about $71.3 million, this weekend's totals also represented an increase of 4 percent.
The top five films of weekend 51 in 1998 were Warner Bros.' "You've Got Mail" ($18.85 million in 2,691 theaters, $6,848 per theater), DreamWorks' "The Prince of Egypt" ($14.5 million in 3,118 theaters, $4,658 per theater), Disney/Buena Vista's "A Bug's Life" ($10 million in 2,773 theaters, $3,602 per theater), Paramount's "Star Trek: Insurrection" ($8.3 million in 2,649 theaters, $3,137 per theater) and Warner Bros.' "Jack Frost" ($5.1 million in 2,152 theaters, $2,373 per theater).
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films, the top distributors in weekend 51 were the following:
Sony was second with one film ("Stuart Little") grossing $15.4 million or about 21 percent of the market.
Warner Bros. was third with one film ("The Green Mile") grossing $12.6 million or 17 percent of the market.
Twentieth Century Fox was fourth with one film ("Anna and the King") grossing $5.1 million or 7 percent of the market.
MGM was fifth with one film ("The World is Not Enough") grossing $4 million or 5.4 percent of the market.
Paramount was seventh with one film ("Sleepy Hollow") grossing $3 million or 4 percent of the market.