'Phantom' Weekend: $64,810,970

by Brandon Gray
May 24, 1999

The Phantom Menace held up strongly on Sunday, dropping only 10%. To put that into perspective, the average family picture drops 25-35%, while older skewing pictures tend to drop even more. With this excellent hold, the actual weekend tally ended up being $64.8 million, $3 million more than the estimate.

For any other picture, this gross would be widely considered extraordinary. But because it's Star Wars well, the picture needed to break every damn record out there to satisfy the hype machine. It didn't. It ended the weekend $7.3 million shy of The Lost World's $72.1 million record.

Let's review the records that Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace did set:

  • Opening day gross (5/19 - $28,542,349)

  • Single day gross (5/19 - $28,542,349)

  • Five day gross (5/19-23 - $105,661,237)

  • Fastest to $100 million (5/19-23 - Five days)

  • Non-holiday weekend gross (5/21-23 - $64,810,970)

And, let's face it, had the picture opened on a Friday it would have handily broken The Lost World's record as well.

The Lost World opened on Memorial Day weekend two years ago, so its Sunday essentially behaved like a second Saturday. It also played at 311 more theaters.

On the other hand, The Phantom Menace was one of the most anticipated pictures of all time. How could opening a couple of days earlier affect its weekend, unless, god forbid, the media was blowing things out of proportion and it really wasn't THAT anticipated after all? Well, for one, it probably wasn't. As I reported earlier, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi sold only a little more than half the tickets of the original Star Wars if you adjust for inflation. What's more, the insane media coverage emphasized how sold out the picture would be, which probably deterred many of the non-die hard fans from seeing it opening weekend. Another factor probably was word-of-mouth. Reactions have been rather subdued aside from the die hards who were determined to love this picture no matter what.

At any rate, with a production budget of $115 million and a minimalist marketing campaign, this will become one of the few pictures to profit in its domestic theatrical run. Ancillary grosses will not only be the frosting, but a whole other cake.

Meanwhile, the date crowd decided to wait for Notting Hill as Dreamworks' The Love Letter didn't send many hearts aflutter, making only $2.7 million from 769 theaters. The strategy was to be counter-programming to Star Wars. Not a bad one actually. In fact, this David vs. Goliath scheme gave the picture more publicity than it would have received otherwise. I bet on any other weekend it would have made even less, as it was destined to bomb anyway.

Forecast results: My initial prediction for Phantom Menace was a more down-to-earth $75 million. But I let the hype get to me a bit and upped it to $90 million when I read the Variety report that there would be 35 million seats available over the first five days. However this figure seems to have been inflated as the picture ended up in many shoe box theaters. If the figure was indeed accurate, then that means the picture sold around 60% of its seats. Also, I was a bit off on The Mummy as I thought Phantom Menace would be much more dominant.

Editor's Note: Articles published before 2001 were assigned and reported as box office briefings, not a full evaluation or analysis.

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