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October Fest for 'Antz'

Box Office: DreamWorks' film opens with an estimated $16.8 million--possibly the best-ever opening for the month; Williams' 'Dreams' is a close second.

October 05, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

DreamWorks' early-bird animated effort "Antz" ate up the box office this weekend with a three-day debut estimated at $16.8 million, and looks to be the best October debut ever, slipping past the previous record holder, MGM/UA's 1994 "Stargate."

In hot pursuit was second-place "What Dreams May Come," Robin Williams' it's-a-wonderful-life-after-death fantasy love story, which got off to an ambitious start with an estimated $16.1 million, the Oscar-winning actor's best noncomedy start ever and third best for the month.

Though it fell back to third place behind the new arrivals, "Rush Hour" stayed in the race with a projected $15 million for its third weekend and almost $85 million in 21 days on 2,701 screens. "Rush Hour" should zip past $100 million sometime over the next week or so.

The weekend's third national debut, the "Saturday Night Live"-inspired Will Ferrell-Chris Kattan comedy "A Night at the Roxbury," got past the doorman with a more-than-respectable entrance of $10 million in 1,865 theaters, again demonstrating the audiences' hunger for comedies--particularly among the young males who flocked to this one. Both "Roxbury" and "Rush Hour" will be pitted against Eddie Murphy's newest laugh-getter, "Holy Man," starting on Friday.

The top four films at the box office accounted for about $58 million, about as much as the top 12 films grossed over the first weekend in October last year--though according to most industry sources, projections for "Antz" may be slightly low and those for "Dreams" and "Roxbury" slightly high. Regardless, this year's dozen leaders racked up an impressive estimate of more than $83 million, up 42% from the same weekend last year.

"Antz," which beat another insect-themed film, Disney's "A Bug's Life," to theaters by six weeks or so, is DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg's attempt to pry open his former employer's lock on the wildly lucrative animation dollar. This one, like DreamWorks' previous "Small Soldiers," is aimed at a slightly older, slightly hipper family audience than the kiddies Disney usually courts. But unlike "Small Soldiers," "Antz" is sending out all the right comedic signals to young and old alike. Most impressive was the film's 80% jump from Friday to Saturday, meaning the adult and family audiences were equally interested, according to company distribution chief Jim Tharp. That broadness is crucial for the film to stay in play. With the Columbus Day holiday in some parts of the country next weekend and little fare for families due until the holiday season, "Antz" may sustain. And while it may not reach the dizzying heights of Disney cash cows--from "Beauty and the Beast" through this summer's "Mulan"--it nonetheless jams DreamWorks' toe solidly in the animation door as the company prepares "Prince of Egypt," its putative "event" animated film set for release Dec. 18.

Industry attention is equally keen on how the release of "Antz" will impact "Bug's Life's" box-office life and whether Disney can overcome being beaten to the punch, as it did when the DreamWorks co-production "Deep Impact" got the first jab in before the similarly themed "Armageddon" opened earlier this year.

"What Dreams May Come," from Polygram Films, was in 2,526 theaters and actually was the No. 1 film on Friday. But it didn't get a major bump on Saturday, which could be a sign of trouble--but could also have to do with the film's long running time, which limits its number of showings. Polygram says the movie is playing equally well with older and younger audiences, men and women. And one of its producers, Interscope's Scott Kroopf, points to encouraging word of mouth on what is admittedly a difficult sell. At a budget reported to be somewhere around $85 million, the after-life romance will need all the sustenance it can get from Williams' considerable star power and word of mouth. Kroopf thinks the film has a shot because of the upcoming holiday weekend and no major debut that competes with "Dreams' " primary audience.

As for "Roxbury," it too had a small increase from Friday to Saturday (about 30%, compared to 64% for "Rush Hour"), indicating its audience is primarily young and male. Yet another in the seemingly endless big-screen renditions of "SNL" skits, "Roxbury" did well enough to justify more of the same in the future, though nowhere near the kind of business of something like "Wayne's World."

There was no sophomore jinx for "Urban Legend," which declined an acceptable 33% from its first weekend to $7 million on 2,257 screens, meaning the youthful thriller has playability and can withstand the heat of competition. "Legend" has collected $20.4 million to date.

Second-weekend results were less salubrious for the adult suspense drama "Ronin," which suffered a troubling 44% drop in 2,879 theaters to $7.2 million and almost $24 million in 10 days, clearly sabotaged by the new entries at the multiplex.

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