Weekend Box Office
by Brandon Gray
August 9, 1999
Unsatisfied with the sheer crappiness of The Haunting and the motion sickness of The Blair Witch Project, audiences turned their attention to The Sixth Sense, in yet another unprecedented weekend. The Bruce Willis starrer made a stunning $26.7 million from just 2,161 theaters, breaking the August opening record previously held by The Fugitive's $23.8 million. This must be considered one of the true sleepers of the summer. It practically came out of nowhere. Here's a picture that was just recently and abruptly added to the summer schedule, that opened in a crowded market place and amidst a plethora of other horror pictures, yet it took the nation by storm. Sure, it had a big star, but Willis is a wild card in non-action roles. I didn't see the trailer, but the ads didn't seem that appealing. Atmospheric, yes, but devoid of the "money shots" used to lure audiences. One of them said something like "Four words will change everything" Then it cut to the kid saying "I see dead people." Uh, okay. Whatever. Don't get me wrong though. It's nice to see audiences going for a movie that resembles a movie rather than a video game. Apparently, the low grades audiences gave The Blair Witch Project were not exaggerated. The picture nearly doubled its theater count yet made $24.3 million, 17% less than last weekend. Sure, that's huge, but it has to be a sign that this fad is fading, because usually when a picture expands so extensively, its box office goes up.
Runaway Bride made $20.8 million, down 41% from its lofty opening. While still a hell of a lot of money, that drop is quite substantive for a romantic comedy. Probable reasons for it are the high level of anticipation of the Roberts-Gere re-teaming having inflated the opening and, of course, the intense competition.
Some reports are claiming that The Thomas Crown Affair is a failure. They say it "ignited few sparks" as it "limped" into fourth place with $14.6 million. Funny how some have totally lost perspective. Sure, next to some of these recent openings, $14.6 million may appear paltry. But historically, it's not. Just because a picture isn't a record breaker, doesn't mean it's a bomb. Thomas Crown actually performed above expectations and made a strong showing, especially given the direct competition for adults and couples from Runaway Bride and The Sixth Sense.
The Iron Giant turned out to be the latest acclaimed family picture to bomb, grossing just $5.7 million. It also continued Warner Bros.' losing streak with animation, which includes such disasters as The King and I and Quest for Camelot. Given the buzz, you would think Warner Bros. could have done more with it. But they advertised it as if it were more Saturday morning cartoon than event, not to mention how they opened it on this crowded weekend. They should have waited until October. That month is wide open for this kind of picture, and it would have given it plenty of room before Toy Story 2 on Thanksgiving. As usual, Warner Bros. spun the disappointing gross by citing how their own Free Willy started small yet went on to gross $77.7 million. Well, that picture opened with $7.9 million from 1,476 theaters. Giant opened at 2,179 theaters, so it has far less room to grow. Strong word-of-mouth should keep it playing for a while though.
Universal's lack of confidence in Mystery Men turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The $65 million picture took in just $10 million and will likely plummet as this type tends to make most of its money up front.
Perhaps Sony thought people would pick up on the 25th anniversary of Watergate and celebrate with Dick. Not many did as the picture grossed a flaccid $2.2 million from 1,522 theaters. It seems like Sony just dumped it. I don't think even they thought this picture could make money on the most crowded weekend of the year and with so little promotion. Like Rushmore and Election, this picture just became the latest adult teen comedy to fail to gain an audience.
Editor's Note: Articles published before 2001 were assigned and reported as box office briefings, not a full evaluation or analysis.