'Haunting' scares up big box office tally
July 25, 1999
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- "The Haunting" and "Inspector Gadget," two movies that widely received poor reviews, opened strongly in the top two spots at the North American box office, while "Eyes Wide Shut" crumbled in its second weekend, according to studio estimates issued Sunday.
"The Haunting," a horror movie starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, grossed about $33 million for the Friday-to-Sunday period, followed by the children's movie "Inspector Gadget" with $22 million. Executives for the films' respective studios, DreamWorks and Walt Disney Pictures, said the openings far exceeded their expectations.
The teen sex comedy "American Pie" (Universal) slipped a notch to No. 3 with $10.3 million in its third weekend, just ahead of "Eyes Wide Shut" (Warner Bros.) with $9.9 million. Adam Sandler's "Big Daddy" (Columbia) rounded out the top five with $6.1 million.
The top 12 films grossed a total of $114 million, about even with the same weekend last year and up 6.4 percent from last weekend, according to Exhibitor Relations, which collects the studios' estimates.
Once again, most box office observers were transfixed by the performance of "The Blair Witch Project," a low-budget mock documentary horror movie playing in limited release to sellout crowds. The movie earned $2 million from 31 theaters, giving it an average of $64,500, said a spokesman for Artisan Entertainment.
By contrast the highest average in the top 10 was $11,752 for "The Haunting," which is playing on about 2,800 screens. "Blair Witch" will expand to 1,000 theaters on Friday.
DreamWorks said "The Haunting" is its best opening since "Saving Private Ryan" debuted last July with $30.6 million. The studio's distribution president, Jim Tharp, noted that most box office observers had predicted an opening in the low-$20 million range, while he was targeting the high-$20 millions.
"It's an old-fashioned, fun, PG-13-rated movie with a well-known director and a strong cast," Tharp said in an interview. "That's a good formula for a summer movie."
Dutch filmmaker Jan De Bont, best known for his work on "Twister" and the two "Speed" movies, directed "The Haunting," which had a reported production budget of $80 million.
Based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel "The Haunting of Hill House," the film also stars independent film stalwarts Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor. The foursome gather at a haunted house as part of an experiment by Neeson's character who does not realize it is possessed by the souls of dead children.
A Variety poll of key critics in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., found that only three reviewers (all in Chicago) liked it; 27 did not and 10 were mixed. As has been the case with many movies this summer, such as "Wild Wild West" and "The General's Daughter," audiences ignored them anyway.
"Inspector Gadget," a special effects comedy based on a cartoon series, marks Walt Disney Pictures' highest summer opening for a live-action film, surpassing "George of the Jungle's" $16.5 million launch two years ago. The movie stars Matthew Broderick as a robotic crime fighter whose body sprouts more gismos than a Swiss Army knife.
Again, critics were appalled: Variety showed three in favor, 18 against and eight mixed.
One other critically maligned film debuted in wide release this weekend, the beauty pageant satire "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (New Line), but its $4 million sum was not enough to break into the top 10.
The three-day sum for director Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," an erotic thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, slid 54 percent from last weekend as bad word of mouth and the inevitable drop-off from a big opening weekend hurt attendances, box office observers said.
Dan Fellman, president of distribution at WB, said moviegoers were probably "overwhelmed" by the film's subject matter and sophistication. However, he expected it to end up with more than $70 million domestically. After 10 days, the film has $40.1 million.
"Last weekend we opened a Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie. This weekend we settled into a Stanley Kubrick movie," Fellman said.
Other totals include $64.7 million for "American Pie" and $148.1 million for "Big Daddy," which is now in its fifth weekend.
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