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A Thanksgiving Feast for Disney's 'A Bug's Life'

Box office Film breaks holiday records as 'Babe' stumbles out of the pen.

November 30, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"A Bug's Life" squashed "Antz" with a record-breaking, $46.5-million, five-day Thanksgiving holiday debut. But "Babe: Pig in the City" met "Joe Black" with a dismal $8.5 million in its first five days.

As expected, Disney/Pixar's "A Bug's Life" raided box offices across the country, averaging more than $12,000 per theater to gross $33.6 million on 2,686 screens in the past three days, breaking Disney's own record for the holiday set by 1996's "101 Dalmatians."

Paramount's "The Rugrats Movie" was a sterling runner-up in the box-office sweepstakes with a three-day holiday weekend total of $21.1 million in 2,823 theaters, down a mere 23% from last weekend. "Rugrats" wisely got a week's jump on the holiday, shattering records for a non-Disney animated feature with its Nov. 20 opening and establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. After 10 days, "Rugrats" has claimed $58 million, more than double what the film reportedly cost.

As for Universal's "Babe," the poor little piglet cried itself no higher than fifth place, and a distant fifth at that: $6.4 million for the three-day weekend on 2,385 screens. The wisdom of getting into a three-way fight with two highly promoted family films had been a subject of internal debate at the studio as early as this summer, when there still was a chance to steer the $80-million sequel away from the slaughterhouse by moving its release date.

Arriving on the heels of the disappointing performance of another high-budget Universal release--the $90-million "Meet Joe Black"--and the expensive dismissal of studio Chairman Frank Biondi Jr., the poor showing of "Babe" stoked the rumor mill as to the long-term (or even short-term) health of Universal production head Casey Silver. "Joe Black" brought in an estimated $5.8 million in its third weekend, for about $36 million to date. Universal has another film, the color remake of "Psycho," opening Friday, and its outcome should provide more edge-of-your-seat excitement than the best attraction on the Universal City tour.

Over at Disney, the company set a five-day record of $95.2 million for its three top films and an industry record with three films each grossing more than $14 million in a single weekend. According to distribution chief Phil Barlow, the audience for "Bug's Life" was extremely varied, leaning slightly toward females, with only a third of the total audience being kiddies and another third being adults over 25 years of age. In five days, "Bug's Life" has grossed more than half of what "Antz" accumulated in nine weeks ("Antz" is nearing the end of its run with about $86 million so far). Other good news for the studio comes from the fact that, after a slower-than-expected start for "Enemy of the State," starring Will Smith, the adult thriller stayed almost dead even with its debut (down just 10%), grossing another $18 million on 2,435 screens over the Friday-to-Sunday holiday period. With almost $50 million in the bank after 10 days and an absence of meaty action fare for the holidays, "Enemy" could become a $100-million grosser by year's end.

For Disney's "The Waterboy," now in its fourth week, $100 million is already a distant memory. The studio's third film in the top four sold another $14 million in tickets over the weekend on 2,782 screens. With almost $125 million in just four weeks, "Waterboy" remains the movie to beat for the 1998 holiday season.

The top 12 movies grossed about $120 million over the past three days (about 70% of which came from the top four movies), a comfortable 22% ahead of last year.

Three other new arrivals showed little promise. Warners' "Home Fries," starring Drew Barrymore, did best with $3.7 million over the weekend (and $5.2 million in five days) on 1,925 screens, taking eighth place. The Jerry Springer movie "Ringmaster" was right behind in ninth place, doing comparably better with an estimated $3.6 million in 1,312 theaters and $5.3 million over the five days. The modestly budgeted black comedy "Very Bad Things" sold only $3.3 million in tickets on 1,260 theaters for a $4.7-million total in its first five days.

Tenth place fell to Gramercy Pictures' "Elizabeth," which expanded to 516 screens and scored a potent $3.4 million estimated total over the weekend (about $6,500 per theater), pulling in a sizable portion of the sophisticated audience, particularly on Saturday night. So far "Elizabeth" has scored $7 million.

The remaining top 10 player was "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," ensconced in seventh place with $4.6 million in its third weekend and a decent $34 million to date. But the teen thriller is about to get the hook as body-count horror fans sample "Psycho."

Among specialized films playing in big cities, the big star is "Waking Ned Devine." The Irish comedy had the blarney to gross $190,421 on only nine screens, better than $21,000 a theater, for almost $450,000 in just 10 days. The other stellar attraction is Roberto Begnini's Italian comedy-drama "Life Is Beautiful," which performed nobly with $915,000 in 124 theaters. It has amassed $5.3 million in its short run.

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