Whatever hopes Hollywood had that last week's Oscar nominations would make the box office sizzle were chilled over the weekend by an arctic storm system that paralyzed the Eastern states, causing movie attendance to plunge.
Less than a month after Southern California's earthquake shut down one of the country's major moviegoing markets for several days, the Eastern blizzards cost the nation's box office 15% to 25% over the weekend, according to preliminary estimates.
Yet, even as the snow was turning to freezing drizzle on the East Coast, officials at major Hollywood studios said the box office wasn't as bad as might have been expected.
The Warner Bros. comedy "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" pulled in an estimated $9.5 million, topping the list for the second week, while the Alec Baldwin-Kim Basinger action drama "The Getaway" from Universal--a remake of the Sam Peckinpah original--grossed an estimated $6 million to take second place during its debut weekend.
"Blank Check," a Disney film about a boy who lives it up on $1 million after a crook gives him an unsigned check, debuted at $5.4 million for third place, while "My Girl 2" from Columbia Pictures saw $5.1 million in ticket sales during its first weekend.
"All three new openings were really hurt by the weather," said Jeff Blake, Columbia's president of domestic distribution. "Many theaters were closed Friday in New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. It was really horrible. While there was some recovery Saturday, it was not 100%."
Rounding out the top 10 were "Schindler's List" (Universal) with $5 million; "Philadelphia" (TriStar), $4.4 million; "Mrs. Doubtfire (Fox), $4.2 million; "My Father the Hero" (Touchstone), $4.2 million; "Grumpy Old Men" (Warner Bros.), $2.8 million; and "In the Name of the Father" (Universal), $2.5 million.
Industry officials said any boost the Academy Award nominations might give attendance will likely have to wait until next weekend, the three-day Presidents' Day holiday.
"Schindler's List," the Holocaust drama that reaped 12 Oscar nominations--including best picture and best actor (Liam Neeson)--saw only a 7% gain at the box office over the weekend even though Universal increased the number of screens it was on from 350 to 784 the weekend before Wednesday's announcement of the nominations. Universal also had increased the number of screens for the Oscar-nominated movie "In the Name of the Father" from 176 to 495. It had taken in $1 million a week earlier.
"The Piano," the Miramax film that received eight Oscar nominations--including best picture and best actress (Holly Hunter)--took in $1.3 million on 610 screens as compared to $787,000 a week earlier on 401 screens, while Columbia's "The Remains of the Day," which was nominated for best picture as well as best actor (Anthony Hopkins) and best actress (Emma Thomson) grossed $500,000 on 250 screens, up from $229,000 the prior week on 174 screens.
Warner Bros., meanwhile, gambled that an Oscar nomination could breathe renewed box-office life into its already successful thriller "The Fugitive." But the Harrison Ford film, which went out of wide release late last year, pulled in only an estimated $800,000 despite being on 1,010 screens.