War is swell for ‘Ryan’

Spielberg saga clears $100 mil, holds off 'Snake,' 'H20'

It was a dogfight at the box office over the weekend, but determined troops from DreamWorks’ “Saving Private Ryan” took the hill ahead of Paramount’s “Snake Eyes” and Dimension’s “Halloween: H20” with an estimated three-day gross of $17.2 million.

On Sunday, “Ryan” — in its third weekend — became the eighth 1998 release to gross more than $100 million. Though it was third-ranked in the marketplace on Friday, the commando team passed all resistance Saturday and was expected to press on. The film was maintaining a healthy $6,640 average at 2,592 outposts to bring its cume to $103.6 million.

The picture also gives director Steven Spielberg the distinction of having 10 pictures chart in first place since Variety began the B.O. rankings in the 1940s. Only Vincente Minnelli tops him with 11.

Close for No. 2

Duking it out for second spot were this week’s freshmen entries. “Halloween: H20,” which debuted Wednesday with a dynamic $5.1 million, led on Friday but slipped behind “Snake Eyes” on Saturday. Miramax reported “H20” at $16 million for the weekend; Paramount pegged its conspiracy thriller at $16.5 million. Tracking trends, however, would suggest an even closer race.

Despite impressive debuts, both films somewhat underperformed. “Snake Eyes,” with a theater average of $6,080 at 2,713 casinos, was dampened by an R classification that has filmmaker Brian DePalma seeing red. The harsh rating was evident in Saturday’s business expanding just 9%.

The “Halloween” sequel had an even more modest 5% Saturday boost, though it had nothing to do with its rating. The distrib opted for a Wednesday launch to squeeze in extra summer play time and that ate into weekend patronage. Nonetheless, it scared up a potent $6,140 average at 2,607 haunted houses for a five-day cume of $24.5 million.

Year-to-year gains

The weekend tally experienced a slight 5% erosion from a week ago, but was a hefty 18% ahead of the comparable 1997 frame. Through Sunday, the year’s box office climbed to more than $4.3 billion, roughly 10% ahead of last year’s record pace.

Fox’s offbeat romantic comedy “There’s Something About Mary” continued to play strong with a modest 10% drop to finish fourth with $9.8 million. Its 2,111 blind playdates rang up an average of $4,640. It has grossed $76.8 to date and is on track to be the summer’s $100 million B.O. surprise.

Disney’s “The Parent Trap” snared $8.2 million for fifth. The redo of the 1960s double play comedy experienced a 26% decline in its second weekend, averaging $3,410 from 2,402 cages. The pic’s cume is $32.4 million.

Fox added about 300 playdates to its romantic spin on the “Cinderella” legend, “Ever After,” and grossed $7.8 million to rank sixth. The film had an exceptionally good hold, slipping just 9% at 2,067 theaters. Its $3,770 average is the makings of a fairy tale come true as the yarn crosses over to an older crowd. The pic has grossed $22.6 million after 10 days in release.

Warner Bros. talked up $6.5 million in seventh position for “The Negotiator.” The offbeat hostage saga gave up 37% from its opening, trading off $2,670 from 2,436 sealed venues. It has grossed $25 million in 12 days at theaters.

Still keen in eighth spot was Tri-Star’s “The Mask of Zorro” with $5.6 million. The bygone righter of wrongs cut a swath of $2,300 from 2,436 unsheathings. Off 33% this weekend, the film’s B.O. stands at $71.7 million domestically.

Touchstone’s “Armageddon” was ninth with $5.2 million. Veering 31% from last weekend’s orbit, the disaster yarn had a $2,450 average from 2,123 playdates. It has winged to a gross of $172.6 million.

Placing 10th was Warner Bros.’ “Lethal Weapon 4” with a $4.8 million gross. The law-and-order mayhem subsided by 38% at 2,329 precincts for a $2,060 average. Its cume to date is $116.3 million.

Auds find a niche

The frame also saw a number of specialized debuts and niche expansions. Best of the incoming product was Lion Gates’ gypsy “Gadjo Dilo,” which generated $20,000 at two Manhattan sites, following a $100,000 B.O. from engagements in Quebec. Also good was a single New York City screen for Chelsea’s docu “Unmade Beds” with $9,000.

However, Strand had bland response to “First Love, Last Rites,” which had a $15,000 B.O. on five screens. October’s “Safe Men” shot mostly blanks with an $18,000 gross from 20 contacts.

Trimark added 66 playdates to “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” and puckered up about $310,000 for solid averages of $4,030. Artisan’s highbrow “Pi” continued to amaze, slowly rolling out from 25 to 41 equations and grossing $240,000 for solid per screens of $5,850.

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