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A Bigger Swinger Hits Town

Box Office. Animated 'Tarzan' topples 'Austin Powers' from top spot with $34.1-million debut.

June 21, 1999|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Who's the king of the box-office jungle? Not Austin Powers anymore. After only one week at the top, "The Spy Who Shagged Me" was knocked off its perch by "Tarzan," Disney's latest animated feature, which beat its chest to great reviews and swung into 3,005 theaters over the weekend to collect an estimated $34.1 million.

In the animation universe only the real king, "The Lion King," has ever gotten off to a stronger start, $40.9 million. But "Tarzan" flew higher than last year's Disney entries "Mulan" ($22 million) and "A Bug's Life" ($33.3 million), indicating that it should rank among the studio's higher-grossing animated efforts. Because of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me's" amazing $55-million debut, there had been some concern that "Tarzan" would be overshadowed and that there couldn't be much more of an attendance surge at theaters. But Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation remains as popular as ever, especially with his new Fabio-like physique.

"Tarzan" may not reach $100 million in time to break any records, but like all major animated hits, this one should have a long life in theaters playing well through the early fall. This is significant for Disney, which has not seen as deep a penetration of Tarzan-related merchandise in stores compared to some of its other animated hits because the highly anticipated "Phantom Menace" and, to a lesser degree, "Austin Powers," have been hogging the shelf space. The strength of the film's debut should work some magic with store owners.

Another factor that contributed to the debut was the Phil Collins hit soundtrack, which accounted for what distribution executive Chuck Viane says was "across-the-board" demographics, young and old, and from all parts of the country. Many evening shows sold out as quickly as matinees, which bodes well for the film's staying power.

As with many sequels, "Austin" opened so high it was bound to take a bit of a tumble in its second weekend (after sensational midweek business), dropping 42% from its record June debut to a still groovy estimate of $31.9 million on 3,314 screens. "Austin" surpassed $100 million in its ninth day of release, tying it for fifth-best all-time record with "Jurassic Park," and the sequel's total for 10 days is a terrific $116.7 million. Both "Tarzan" and "Austin" duke it out next weekend with Adam Sandler as his new comedy, "Big Daddy," opens, joined five days later by Will Smith in "Wild Wild West."

In third place was the weekend's other national debut, "The General's Daughter," starring John Travolta, which had enough spit and polish to command an estimated $22.3 million in 2,856 theaters, good for third place in this super-heated summer atmosphere. Appealing mostly to older audiences (over age 25), it compared favorably with Travolta's best debut, "Face/Off," which had a $23.4-million opening.

With "Tarzan," "Austin" and "General's Daughter" all grossing in excess of $20 million--the first time three films have done that--the top 12 films took in an estimated $123 million, up from last weekend (about 10%) and the comparable period last year (by 21%) as summer kicks into high gear, according to Exhibitor Relations. The top four films, however, accounted for everything but $16 million of that total, indicating how perilously top-heavy attendance is becoming.

The winner and still champion for 1999, in fourth place this weekend, is "Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace," which is blithely untouched by the competition, falling less than 30% in weekend No. 4 with $17.85 million in 3,019 theaters for a stratospheric total to date of $327 million.

"Notting Hill" fell to fifth place, feeling a little bit of heat from "General's Daughter" and "Tarzan" in dropping 37% to $7 million, just as it reached the $80-million mark, but the Julia Roberts vehicle still has some tiger left in its tank.

"The Mummy" finally got taken down a peg by the new arrivals after seven prosperous weeks, dropping more than 40% to $3 million in 2,325 theaters. But in so doing it has passed the $140-million level, and should tick several million more before it is laid to rest.

"Instinct," however, couldn't stand the heat of the competition and lost 54% of its previous weekend's business, down to a projected $3.1 million in 2,129 theaters for a moderate three-week total of $27 million. It looks poised to stall out in the mid-$30-million range, one of the summer's few disappointments so far.

"Entrapment" also was stymied by the arrival of newer adult fare, but week eight contributed another $1.15 million to its already strong total of almost $82 million.

In eighth place after three months in theaters, "The Matrix" grabbed another $1.3 million or so, elevating the sci-fi film to $164 million. It should end up just south of $170 million.

In 10th place was "Tea With Mussolini," taking in $635,000 in 283 runs for $8.7 million to date.

There was still some business left over for specialty debuts such as the Oscar Wilde adaptation "An Ideal Husband," which took in $200,000 on 10 screens, and the German import "Run Lola Run," which grossed $88,500 in five theaters.

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