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'Rugrats' Outruns 'Enemy'

Box OfficeKids' movie based on animated TV series bests Will Smith action film in surprisingly strong debut.

November 23, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In what promises to be an unpredictable first half of the holiday season, "The Rugrats Movie" bested its formidable adult-oriented competitors to take the top slot at the box office for the pre-Thanksgiving weekend. The estimated $28-million debut on 2,782 screens is better than $10,000 a theater, which means attendance was mighty, since many of the admissions for the animated picture were children's matinee tickets.

Surprisingly, the kiddie movie outdistanced Will Smith's well-reviewed action film "Enemy of the State," which brought in a strong but not supersonic $20.3 million estimate in 2,393 theaters in its debut weekend. But then "Enemy," like most other films in theaters, is also competing with the phenomenon of "The Waterboy," which had only a 36% decline in its third weekend, dipping to $15.8 million in 2,689 theaters. It continues to play amazingly well, given that the competition gets stiffer by the week. A pattern of consistent repeat business among young viewers has now taken hold. The Adam Sandler comedy moved into the $100-million neighborhood Sunday and looks likely to be a first-string player through Christmas.

Other moderately wide national releases were largely disastrous. Woody Allen's latest, "Celebrity," was largely lambasted by critics as one of the filmmaker's weaker recent efforts. Despite the appearance of Leonardo DiCaprio in the ensemble cast, "Celebrity" got off to an infamous $1.7-million start in 493 theaters. Since Allen's obviously shrinking core fan base shows up largely on opening weekend, the long-term prognosis is not good. The controversial "American History X" also failed to make its mark, broadening to 512 venues with only a paltry $1.4 million to show for it. The racism drama has grossed just $2.3 million to date.

Of the independent films, only "Elizabeth" showed any true box-office moxie. In only 122 theaters, the period drama was neck and neck with 12th-place "American History X," claiming $1.36 million, about $9,500 a screen. The expansion bodes well for "Elizabeth's" ascension to about 600 theaters next week. So far, "Elizabeth" also has grossed $2.3 million.

Though "Rugrats" was expected to be largely kiddie-driven, its Friday-night gross of $6.8 million beat out every other movie in the country, indicating that its appeal is much wider. Not surprisingly, Saturday business exploded to $12 million and Sunday estimates were equally potent. Paramount's senior executive Rob Friedman said that teenagers, largely female, accounted for the big Friday attendance figures, an encouraging sign for a film whose audience was largely considered to be confined to kids under 10 and their parents. Some industry insiders are predicting a potential "Ninja Turtles"-type breakout hit for the film version of the popular Nickelodeon series.

Of course, "Rugrats" won't have the playing field to itself next weekend. Along with "Babe: Pig in the City," Disney's "A Bug's Life" crawls out across the nation on Wednesday. And based on its single-theater debut in Los Angeles this past weekend, "Bug's Life" should be a formidable contender. "Bug's Life" officially launched the refurbished El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood with a record-breaking $291,000.

As for "Enemy," it had long been expected to be one of the season's sure-fire winners. The $8,300-per-theater first-weekend estimate is a very good launching platform, but, curiously, the film didn't bring out Smith's younger fans, who were siphoned away by Disney's own "Waterboy." According to a studio spokesman, attendance was largely adult (60%) with the emphasis on males. And the film only rose about 31% from Friday to Saturday--more than decent but, again, somewhat under expectations. Positive reviews and word of mouth should bolster the movie over the Thanksgiving holiday. The real test will come during the pre-Christmas lull, when adult moviegoers are nowhere to be found, busying themselves with shopping and other holiday activities.

Going into Thanksgiving, the top 12 movies brought in about $95 million over the weekend, a promising 19% ahead of last year, according to Exhibitor Relations. And if all the early holiday movies are not performing up to snuff individually, collectively they are selling more tickets.

Last week's two big noises were muffled in their second week, particularly "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," which plummeted 56% to $7.2 million in 2,443 theaters and $26.4 million to date. By the time "Psycho" comes along Dec. 4, "Summer" will definitely be over.

"Meet Joe Black" also suffered a grim 43% decline, reaping just $8.6 million in 2,505 theaters. While the film seems to have enough playability to be a moderate performer, that's not good enough for a film whose cost reportedly exceeded $90 million. "Joe Black" has only grossed $27.2 million in 10 days.

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