'The Phantom Menace' makes box office boom
May 21, 1999
From Paul Vercammen
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- If opening day was any indication, the latest installment of the "Star Wars" film saga appears to be on its way to breaking all kinds of box-office records.
"Star Wars, Episode One: The Phantom Menace" debuted on Wednesday with spectacular support from its die-hard fans. Film studio 20th Century Fox reports it broke the all-time high for one-day ticket sales in the United States and Canada, taking in $28.5 million on opening day. That's an average of $9,600 per screen.
"When you have this much anticipation, it's like a stallion waiting to get out of the gate in a horse race," says Paul Degarabedian, president of box office statistics collector Exhibitor Relations. "When that film was released, people were just there -- and they were ready."
Records for best opening three, four and five days are also in sight.
"The Lost World: Jurassic Park" previously held the one-day box office record with $26 million. But that record was set on a Sunday, when work and school didn't compete with moviegoing plans.
Many "Star Wars" supporters played what's come to be known as "Wookie hooky" on opening day. They're not apologizing for it.
"What do you say to these people who say, 'Get a life'? -- They're at work right now. Our lives are in a theater. That's all I (have to) say about that. Take a day off, come on," one truant said.
For his 'Phantom' phans ...
Director-producer George Lucas, using his considerable force of will, urged that "The Phantom Menace" open on a Wednesday. He says he did it for the series' most ardent supporters.
"I said there are so many fans, and the fans are going to go no matter what," Lucas says. "And if the fans go on Wednesday and Thursday, then at least the normal people can see it on Friday."
AMC Theaters, which has almost 2,700 screens across the country, reports staggering business.
"The sellouts have been too numerous to count," says Dick Walsh, senior vice president of the company's west operations. "It's been more often the case (than not) that the picture has been sold out. Only the early morning shows yesterday (Wednesday) -- like the 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and early afternoon -- did not sell out."
"From 5 o'clock on, throughout the nation, it was a virtual sellout," Degarabedian says.
"Titanic" holds the all-time U.S.-Canadian box office record at $600 million. But some "Star Wars" fans are making bold forecasts. "'Titanic' is going down," according to one of them.
In order for "The Phantom Menace" to conquer all record territories, though, moviegoers may have to make repeat trips to the theater.
'Phantom' stars say they're happy to be part of legend
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