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'Eyes' Sees Its Way to Top Spot

Box office. Low-budget 'Blair Witch Project,' heavily marketed on the Internet, takes in $1.5 million, proving weekend's biggest surprise.

July 19, 1999|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The debut of the late Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" may have been overshadowed somewhat by the surprising departure of Warner Bros. studio heads Robert Daly and Terry Semel, and reviews may have veered from the highly laudatory to the totally confused.

Still, audiences were intrigued by the enigmatic marketing campaign for the R-rated pairing of Tom Cruise and wife Nicole Kidman for the film to take in $22.8 million--good for No. 1 at the box office--slightly better than the studio's hoped-for $20-million opening.

The audience was, as expected, mostly over 25, according to Warners marketing chief Dan Fellman, though the 18- to 25-year-olds who did show up were highly laudatory in exit polling. "Eyes" opened particularly well on Friday but didn't get the normal Saturday night attendance bump enjoyed by most other films in the marketplace, which is odd, especially for an adult-skewing movie, though it could be due to TV coverage of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s missing plane as well as higher than expected first-night business.

For Kubrick, who died shortly after finishing "Eyes," this final effort should be his highest grossing film, having done half as much in one weekend as his last film, 1987's "Full Metal Jacket," amassed during its entire run ($46 million). It's also Kubrick's best first-weekend debut, handily beating "The Shining's" $8.5-million opening in 1980.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 20, 1999 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 8 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong title--Dan Fellman is Warner Bros.' president of domestic theatrical distribution. He was misidentified in a story in Monday's Calendar section.

For Cruise, it's a better debut than "Jerry Maguire's" $17 million, though not as big as "Mission Impossible" ($45 million) or "Interview With the Vampire" ($36 million).

Though it did not debut to "Eyes"-style numbers, the real eye-opener for the weekend was the low-budget "Blair Witch Project," which, on only 27 screens in select cities, racked up an amazing $1.5 million, breaking records in every house and averaging almost $58,000 per theater, mostly from audiences of ages 18 to 29. In three days, "Blair" has grossed more than twice its original cost of $600,000. Fledgling Artisan Pictures, which released the film, seems to have a major sleeper on its hands.

Most impressive about the "Blair Witch" debut is that Artisan has yet to buy any television time, and the film, which got a great buzz in Sundance last January, instead has been marketed heavily via its Internet site. According to company principal Amir Malin, the movie site has recorded 21 million hits in the past few months.

The weekend's other debuts were milder but promising. The funny-scary "Lake Placid" took in around $10.1 million in its first weekend, enticing a mostly youthful crowd (64% under 25). The coming-of-age drama "The Wood" did a respectable $8.6 million. And for the kids, "Muppets From Space," which opened last Wednesday, made $5.1 million in 2,655 theaters, landing in 10th place for a five-day total of about $7 million.

The new competition didn't have much effect on the stronger films playing, picking off mostly the weaker titles. The situation during the first half of the summer where the top two or three films were selling 80% or more of all tickets has reversed. The wealth is now more spread out. All of the top 10 films grossed more than $5 million, and five of them topped $10 million.

Last weekend's No. 1 film "American Pie" took a less than average drop of 29% to an estimated $13.3 million as it continued to satisfy young males, bringing its 10-day total to a strong $45 million.

"Wild Wild West" lost another 41% in admissions for its third weekend, down to an estimated $10 million and $94 million to date. "Wild" will be the seventh film of the summer to cross $100 million next weekend at around the same time as "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" achieves $400 million, only the third movie in history to ever do so, the others being "Titanic" and the original "Star Wars."

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