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'Waterboy' Outpaces Death in Two Different Forms

Box office'I Still Know What You Did Last Summer,' 'Meet Joe Black' take a back seat to Sandler's shtick.

November 16, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Adam Sandler's "The Waterboy" played like a pro in its second weekend, easily outrunning two new competitors: the teen thriller "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" and the Brad Pitt romance "Meet Joe Black."

After breaking all non-summer records last weekend, "Waterboy" tenaciously held on, losing only 36% from its first weekend for an estimated $25.2 million on 2,675 screens. The comparatively low drop against two new competitors after a first-week total of more than $50 million indicates "Waterboy" is no one-week wonder. Having already clocked $80 million, "Waterboy" should be at $100 million by next weekend. And then comes Thanksgiving week, typically one of the best of the year.

With "Waterboy's" strong male appeal, the weekend's two new arrivals pretty much split the female audience. Since more young women go to the movies (and the film is a sequel), "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" had the edge, scaring up a predicted $17.5 million in 2,443 sites--somewhat better than the original "I Know What You Did Last Summer," which opened at $15.8 million in October of last year. Surprisingly, the young female-to-male ratio was not that lopsided (53% women). But the decline in business from Friday to Saturday suggests this one will behave no better than the average horror film.

The one-two youth punch of "Waterboy" and "I Still Know What You Did" put a cap on the $90-million "Meet Joe Black's" opening weekend potential. Not helping matters is that the wildly expensive Brad Pitt romance was not kindly received by reviewers and runs three hours. Nonetheless, the actor's core fan base (68% female) and a good marketing campaign were enough to coax an estimated $15.6 million from 2,504 theaters, with the movie doing best in big cities.

That's Pitt's strongest showing in some time, beating "The Devil's Own," which debuted at $14.3 million last year. Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco says "Joe Black" was up 23% from Friday to Saturday (again hampered by having only one evening show) and that the strongest exit poll reaction came from younger (under 30) women, which is crucial to the film being able to hang on through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Having at least gotten "Joe Black" out of the gate, the question now is how well the woebegone Universal can overcome negative publicity that has been plaguing the studio's equally costly, problem-laden "Babe: Pig in the City."

The precarious situation surrounding "Babe's" completion has been the talk of the industry. Since the film is tethered to a host of merchandising and promotional tie-ins, any postponement past its scheduled Nov. 25 release date would create major problems. Rocco says the movie is finally done and will be screened for exhibitors Wednesday.

The film will be competing with two highly touted family films opening Friday--Disney's "A Bug's Life" and Paramount's "The Rugrats Movie"--and "Waterboy," which is playing gangbusters to the family crowd. Variety's report of a good but unspectacular test screening only further put the franchise movie under a cloud.

On the bright side, "Babe" won't have to worry much about Disney's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas, which appears well on its way home to video shelves after a dismal $4-million first weekend in 1,759 theaters.

The top three films at the box office brought in more than $58 million in this second weekend of the lucrative holiday season. The remaining nine films in the top 12 added $42 million, and while attendance was down slightly from last weekend it was still almost 35% ahead of last year, according to the industry tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

As strong as attendance is, there are already casualties. "Waterboy" and its two runners-up sapped ticket sales for the adult action film "The Siege," which lost 41% of its opening weekend business, dipping to $8.2 million in 2,579 theaters and $26.5 million after 10 days. With the highly anticipated arrival of Will Smith's "Enemy of the State" next weekend, the long-term prospects for "The Siege" are modest at best.

"Pleasantville" continued to chug along pleasantly, taking in another $4.1 million in 1,773 theaters to bring it to $32 million after a month in theaters. But "Living Out Loud" is already fading with just $2.7 million in its second weekend on 1,087 screens and only $8.6 million to date.

DreamWorks has made the most of additional television advertising for "Antz" over the past two weekends. Even as it continues to lose play dates (it's now down to 2,351 theaters), the fall hit held on stubbornly to fifth place with an estimated $4.2 million over the weekend, off only 25%. With $81 million in seven weeks, "Antz" still has some life. "The Wizard of Oz" is also shaping up to be a decent performer, dropping only 34% to $3.7 million on 1,882 screens; it has already collected more than $10 million in 10 days, not bad for a film made in 1939.

Rounding out the top 10 was the fall season's biggest hit, "Rush Hour," which is now on 1,615 screens and still managed to pocket another $2 million, bringing it to an even $130 million.

Gramercy's period drama "Elizabeth" appears to have the stuff to expand to 600 theaters by Thanksgiving, based on the almost $350,000 it grossed on just 14 screens (nearly $25,000 a theater) for more than $750,000 in 10 days. Another potentially strong specialized film, "Dancing at Lughnasa" starring Meryl Streep, took off with $90,000 on four screens in New York over the weekend, almost $23,000 a theater. The film opens in Los Angeles on Friday.

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