'Witch,' 'Runaway' help hike gross

August box office was hot.

For the month, the tally climbed to a new high for the frame of $788.6 million.

Fueled by $100 million box office performances of Hollywood Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment’s “The Sixth Sense,” Artisan’s “The Blair Witch Project” and Paramount/Lakeshore’s “Runaway Bride,” the monthly gross increased by 6.5% from 1998 and also got a slight hike in admissions of 2% to approximately 161.3 million.

Buena Vista romped to the top of the market share chart, with August releases grossing $205 million and accounting for 26% of the month’s B.O. Second place Universal trailed by almost 50% with a 13.1% share.

While the past month had an unusual number of high grossers, the span was also rife with films that were instant commercial casualties. Among the toll were Sony’s “Dick” and “Universal Soldier: The Return,” “A Dog of Flanders” from Warner Bros., Dimension’s “Teaching Mrs. Tingle,” New Line’s “Detroit Rock City,” Fox’s “Brokedown Palace” and “Dudley Do-Right” from Universal.

Debuting specialized fare was largely put on hold, though Trimark/Motion’s “Better Than Chocolate,” Sony’s “Twin Falls Idaho” and Artisan’s “Illuminata” have had good initial response, and Eros’ Hindi “Taal” (“Rhythm”) has had one of the best runs on the ethnic circuit with close to $1.5 million in three weeks. For the most part, though, the niches were carried by continuing runs of “Run Lola Run,” “Buena Vista Social Club” and “The Red Violin,” and such large-format fare as “Everest,” “Mysteries of Egypt,” “T-Rex” and “Extreme.”

“The Sixth Sense” was August’s top individual performer, followed by (in descending order) “The Blair Witch Project,” “Runaway Bride,” Buena Vista’s “Inspector Gadget,” MGM’s “The Thomas Crown Affair,” Warner Bros.’ “Deep Blue Sea,” Universal’s “Bowfinger,” DreamWorks’ “The Haunting,” Universal’s “American Pie” and Warner Bros.’ “Mickey Blue Eyes.”

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