General News

'Phantom Menace' Rules Record Year

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Jul 31, 2001 | 6:53am EDT

It was a record-breaking year in Hollywood as the sale of movie tickets topped $7 billion for the first time and more films than ever before grossed at least $100 million, thanks in large part to the box-office power of the small-fry set.

Movies starring kids ("Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace," "The Sixth Sense," "Big Daddy"), movies for kids ("Toy Story 2," "Tarzan") and movies made by filmmakers who recently were kids ("The Blair Witch Project") are among the 17 films that blew past the century mark in 1999.

Topping them all, of course, "The Phantom Menace." Even if critics found George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequel wanting (and certain members of the public found Jar-Jar Binks annoying), the space flick lived up to the advance hype where ticket sales were concerned. The film, released in May, grossed an estimated $429.9 million, putting it at No. 1 on the 1999 list -- and No. 3 on the all-time list behind only "Titanic" ($600.7 mil) and the original 1977 "Star Wars" ($460.9 mil).

Before the clock turns over to Jan. 1, total ticket sales are expected to hit $7.5 billion at the domestic box office, up 7 percent from last year's then record $6.95 billion. Roughly 1.5 billion movie tickets were sold -- the most in 40 years. In an industry where careers live or die by the bottom line, those numbers ain't kid stuff.

"To have 17 films grossing $100 million or more is even more astounding than setting a new record for total box office," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., the box-office tracking firm. "These 17 films, if you total up their [cumulative grosses], the total revenue for them is $2.8 billion. That tells you how strong the overall box office is."

Last year, a (relatively) measly 12 films topped the $100 million milestone. One reason for the business boom, of course, is simple economics: Movies cost more than ever. The average ticket price is now $4.85, with adult admissions at many New York and Los Angeles cinemas topping $9.

For their money, though, moviegoers are being treated to a batch of new theaters -- and all the cool sound systems, stadium seating and well-equipped snack bars that entail.

"The exhibitors have built some really good theaters and created wonderful moviegoing environments, and it can't be underestimated how important that is," said Dergarabedian. "Even with all these other new entertainment diversions, [the new box-office record] shows the power of the theatrical film.

"Audiences just crave that communal moviegoing experience, and the scale and scope, which cannot be re-created at home unless you have a 50-foot TV screen."

Here's the complete rundown of 1999's $100 Million Club, according to Exhibitor Relations:

1. "Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace" $429.9 million

2. "The Sixth Sense" $275.7 million *

3. "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" $205.4 million

4. "Toy Story 2" $177.5 million *

5. "The Matrix" $171.3 million

6. "Tarzan" $170.8 million *

7. "Big Daddy" $163.5 million

8. "The Mummy" $155.2 million

9. "Runaway Bride" $151.9 million *

10. "The Blair Witch Project" $140.5 million

11. "Notting Hill" $116 million

12. "Double Jeopardy" $113.9 million *

13. "Wild Wild West" $113.7 million

14. "The World Is Not Enough" $111.3 million *

15. "Analyze This" $106.7 million

16. "The General's Daughter" $102.7 million

17. "American Pie" $101.7 million

Grosses through Dec. 26, 1999. Asterisk (*) indicates that the film is still in theaters and the final year-end gross will be higher.

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