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Weekend Warrior 'Ryan' Fells Chiller and Thriller

Movies: War drama wins heated box office battle, leaving 'Halloween H20' and 'Snake Eyes' to grapple for second place.

August 10, 1998|RICHARD NATALE SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The weekend began as a war on two fronts for "Saving Private Ryan," battling the formidable Jamie Lee Curtis in the scare-fest "Halloween H20" on one side and Nicolas Cage in the thriller "Snake Eyes" on the other.

Neither had the chops to unseat the champ and were left to duke it out for second place. A dead heat developed and, with Sunday business only estimated, the final outcome is still in doubt. For now it's "Snake Eyes" in front with an estimated $16.5 million and "H20" breathing down its neck with about $16 million.

Because "Halloween H20" came into the weekend with more than $8.5 million in the bank since its Wednesday opening, it ended up at just about the projected $16 million for the three-day weekend on 2,607 screens and had a five-day total of close to $25 million. Though horror films traditionally fall off fast, the appeal of this one, as well as continuing midweek summer business, could land "H20" in the same water as "Scream" or "I Saw What You Did Last Summer" by Labor Day. At the very least, the seventh in the series should top the original, which, way back in 1978, grossed $55 million.

"Saving Private Ryan," however, remained in the No. 1 spot for the third consecutive week--longer than any other film this summer--with an estimated $17.6 million on 2,592 screens, just a 25% drop from last weekend. "Ryan" now stands at $104 million, with more than enough ammo left to launch it into the No. 2 spot for summer behind "Armageddon" and possibly enough to win the crown depending on how well it plays into the fall.

With "Snake Eyes" rolling a powerful $16.5-million debut on 2,713 screens, Cage definitely beat the house. Despite the film's mixed reviews, Cage demonstrated that he can open a movie solo and doesn't require an equally weighty co-star such as Sean Connery ("The Rock") or John Travolta ("Face-Off") or, in the case of "Snake Eyes," Will Smith, who was once considered for the role that eventually fell to Gary Sinise. According to Paramount, which is releasing the movie in the U.S. (Disney has the foreign markets), the film's audience was older (70% over 25 years of age) and more heavily male than female, giving it a solid platform on which to build.

The intense box office competition was good for business, with the top 12 films grossing more than $100 million, a hefty 24% better than the same week last year, according to the industry tracking company Exhibitor Relations. Summer '98 remains on track to beat last year's record $2.2 billion.

The year-to-date grosses are aided by the holding power of several films, including "There's Something About Mary," which racked up another $9.8 million over the weekend, a barely perceptible 10% drop. "Mary" just breezed past $75 million and she's not looking back. Look for her to sit at the big kids' table before summer's end, joining the exclusive $100-million club alongside "Deep Impact," "Godzilla," "Mulan," "Dr. Dolittle," "Armageddon," "Private Ryan," "The Truman Show" and "Lethal Weapon 4."

"The Parent Trap" slipped from second place to fifth in the late summer performance derby, grossing $8.2 million, a more than acceptable 26% drop from its opening weekend, and just over $32 million in two weeks. Drew Barrymore's post-feminist Cinderella tale, "Ever After," held even better with a slight 10% drop for an estimated $7.8 million and almost $23 million in only 10 days.

The debut of "Snake Eyes" took a bite out of "The Negotiator," which tumbled 35% in its second weekend to an estimated $6.6 million and a 10-day total of about $25 million. "The Mask of Zorro" continues to display admirable panache, taking in another $5.6 million over the weekend and climbing to almost $72 million in its first month of release.

"Armageddon" is still in outer space with an estimated $5.2 million in its sixth weekend. The $175-million mark is just a day or two away. Rounding out the top 10 is "Lethal Weapon 4," which is going the way of all sequels with another 39% drop in its fifth weekend to about $4.8 million. But with $116 million in the till so far, no one's complaining.

The summer's not over yet, however. Labor Day arrives late this year (Sept. 7) and the major studios are hoping to use that extended playing period to cram in a few more films. Friday brings four new titles, including Angela Bassett discovering "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." There's also fresh action competition in the guise of "The Avengers," with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes hoping to follow in the footsteps of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee in a big-screen version of the '60s cult TV series. Hoping to snare some family fans is the return of "Air Bud" in a sequel entitled "Golden Receiver," while Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche will court the adult audience with "Return to Paradise."

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