Fox retains market share as '98 pace surpassed

The national box office finally passed 1998′s former record pace Friday, finishing the weekend with a $3.05 billion cume. Strong debuts for Disney’s animated “Tarzan” and Paramount’s dramatic thriller “The General’s Daughter” bolstered the weekend frame by 14% from last year’s comparable period, and that was strong enough to wind Sunday 1.2% better than where it was sitting 12 months ago.

Fox retained the market share crown with a $539.6 million gross for a 17.7% slice, with Universal in the bridesmaid slot with a $446.6 million B.O. and 14.6% share.

The year got off to a slow start and has been playing catch-up to “Titanic’s” unprecedented performance ever since. However, beginning with the early second quarter debut of WB’s “The Matrix,” one could see the gap slowly shrinking week by week as “Entrapment,” “The Mummy,” “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace” and “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” made their theatrical launches.

Hitting century mark

Last year’s summer scorecard generated nine titles that would go on to a $100 million-plus domestic box office, with two — “Saving Private Ryan” and “Armageddon” — that would top out at more than $200 million in North America. “Star Wars: Episode 1″ has already recorded $330 million, with “The Mummy” and so-called “Austin Powers 2″ passing the century mark, plus “Tarzan” certain to exceed that benchmark.

With “Big Daddy,” “Wild Wild West,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Runaway Bride” and several pics expected to have the surprise capabilities of last year’s “There’s Something About Mary,” there’s reason to be confident that seasonal play will sizzle to new heights.

Still, the closing months of the year will have to provide at least two left-field successes to approach the near 10% B.O. boost recorded in 1998. And even with a big finale, the admission tally might be only a couple of percentage points better than the last tote of 1.4 billion tickets.

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