'Armageddon' brings top dollar

July box office reached record heights of $812.8 million, but the 6% boost from last year’s standard bearer wasn’t enough to provide the frame with increased attendance.

Buena Vista led the month with B.O. of $242.3 million and close to 30% of market share. With Fox, the top two companies accounted for roughly half of July box office and the top individual grosser in Touchstone’s “Armageddon.”

Approximately 170.4 million tickets were sold during July, which translated into a 1% drop in patronage from 1997 and 6% less than the record for the month set in 1994. The summer season to date has generated revenue of $1.75 billion, which puts its pace roughly 11% better than any prior summer frame to this point. August business is expected to be on par or slightly better than last year, so the final seasonal ticket tally should demonstrate a slight improvement from one year ago.

The frame was dominated by event titles with the top 10 grossers for the month accounting for 80% of July’s $800 million plus biz. Specialized fare was lackluster overall, especially if one factored out large-format fare including “Everest” and “Thrill Ride.”

The top limited release in July was New Line’s reissue of “Gone With the Wind,” followed by Sony Classics’ “The Opposite of Sex.” Among the notable new niche fare pics were Miramax’s “Smoke Signals,” “Pi” from Artisan and Lions Gates’ “Buffalo 66.”

The month’s top individual grossers (in descending order) following “Armageddon” were: Warner Bros.’ “Lethal Weapon 4,” Fox’s “Dr. Dolittle,” DreamWorks’ “Saving Private Ryan,” Sony’s “The Mask of Zorro,” Fox’s “There’s Something About Mary,” Buena Vista’s “Mulan,” DreamWorks’ “Small Soldiers,” Sony’s “Madeline” and Fox’s “The X-Files.”

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