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As 'Sixth Sense' Sizzles, Newcomers Feel a Chill

Box Office: The psychological thriller remains a strong No. 1, while 'Mickey Blue Eyes,' 'Mrs. Tingle' and 'Soldier' sequel have mild openings.

August 23, 1999|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Except for the remarkable "The Sixth Sense," the hottest summer on record is finally beginning to show some signs of cooling down. The weekend's three new films all opened on the mild side, with only the Mafia comedy "Mickey Blue Eyes," starring Hugh Grant, demonstrating any sparkle, mainly with older audiences. "Mickey" came in at an estimated $10.4 million in its 2,573-theater debut, placing third.

The other two new releases, the sequel "Universal Soldier: The Return" starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (an unmuscular $4.7 million on 1,639 screens), and the comedy thriller "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" from "Scream" author Kevin Williamson (a disappointing $3.5 million in 1,710 theaters), finished in seventh and 10th places, respectively. With five national releases due next weekend, neither film is likely to survive more than a couple of weeks.

But "The Sixth Sense" is surpassing everyone's expectations and moving into blockbuster territory. The psychological thriller now seems geared to be the summer's third-biggest grossing film behind "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" and the "Austin Powers" sequel. And considering its insignificant third-weekend drop of just 6%, "Sixth Sense" has a shot at moving past "Austin Powers" into $200-million land. With $24.1 million over the weekend on 2,698 screens, "Sixth Sense" once again was the top grosser and became the 11th film this summer to cross the $100-million mark, a record for a single season. Before summer is over, that record could be extended as either "American Pie" or "Inspector Gadget" (or both) could also reach the plateau.

Box-office totals for the third weekend in August were off a considerable 28% from last weekend. Still, largely due to "Sixth Sense," the top 12 films brought in an estimated $90 million, according to Exhibitor Relations, 28% ahead of the comparable weekend last year.

The Steve Martin-Eddie Murphy collaboration "Bowfinger" dropped about 40% in its second weekend to an estimated $10.7 million on 2,715 screens for a good 10-day total of almost $36 million. And there are no complaints for "Runaway Bride" or "The Thomas Crown Affair," which, along with "Bowfinger," demonstrate that older audiences take their time getting to a movie but are still a significant ticket-buying block. The fourth weekend for "Bride," the Julia Roberts-Richard Gere romance, was a hearty $9.3 million in 3,240 theaters, bringing its total up to almost $114 million. "Thomas Crown" lured another $7.1 million in its third weekend in 2,427 theaters and now has amassed more than $42 million in 17 days.

"The Blair Witch Project" is finally beginning to slow down, down a hefty 51% as its core audience started preparing for school instead of spending its time on the film's Web site. In 2,538 theaters, "Blair" grossed an estimated $7.1 million, putting it neck-and-neck with "Thomas Crown" for fifth place. After six weeks in theaters, four of them in wide national release, "Blair" has amassed $120 million.

"Inspector Gadget" still has weekend matinees to keep it flying. Its fifth weekend total was about $4.3 million in 2,144 theaters, bringing it up to $83 million to date. "Deep Blue Sea" is still seaworthy at No. 9 with $3.8 million on 2,246 screens and almost $64 million in its first month.

The final summer movie binge commences this coming weekend with the long-on-the-shelf Antonio Banderas action-adventure "The 13th Warrior," Johnny Depp in a thriller titled "The Astronaut's Wife," the urban drama "In Too Deep," Albert Brooks' comedy "The Muse" and Brendan Fraser as "Dudley Do-Right."

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