No. 12 is on the way
Eleven summer movies join '$100 million' club
September 8, 1999
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- If you went to the movies this summer in the United States or Canada, you're partly responsible for helping to smash a box-office record. Filmgoers in those countries spent $2.9 billion dollars on tickets this season, compared to last year's record of $2.6 billion.
"There's this mood of total surprise with the summer performance this year," says Paul Degarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "'99 has become the highest-grossing summer ever."
Eleven films have vaulted to or past the $100-million mark so far, with "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace" raking in $420 million alone. The "Austin Powers" sequel comes in second. Backers say they thought they'd do well at theaters, but not this well.
"We felt that the movie was even much stronger than the first movie," says Bob Freidman, New Line Cinema's president of marketing. "But you never can guess or bet on getting a $200-millon movie in this day and age."
Price of success need not be high
Bigger surprises include the low-hype "The Sixth Sense," which is cruising toward $200 million, and "The Blair Witch Project," which cost a reported $60,000 or so to make and has earned an estimated $133.5 million so far.
Bruce Beresford, director of "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989) and the upcoming "Double Jeopardy," says there's a lesson here. "I think some of the things like 'The Blair Witch Project' and other successful films on more modest budgets are at least making people think that maybe there are projects around where you don't have to simply load them up with special effects to make them work."
"Wild Wild West," starring Will Smith, spent between $105 million and $180 million on effects. Despite passing the $100-million mark, it's considered a dud. There was no monetary consolation for Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam" or "Muppets from Space." Both bombed. Other notable box-office misses include "Mystery Men," "Dudley Do-Right," "Detroit Rock City" and "The Astronaut's Wife."
But overall, business boomed. "The General's Daughter" and "Runaway Bride" packed in older filmgoers. "American Pie" and "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" kept younger fans spending -- and some under-age would-be fans cooling their heels in the lobby. With some $99 million in box office receipts now, "American Pie" appears poised to become the 12th film introduced during the summer movie season to break the $100- million barrier.
"Despite the fact that ticket prices have gone up because of escalating costs at theaters," Friedman says, "more people are going to the theater and seeing this a great alternative to some other leisure activities."
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent Paul Vercammen and Reuters contributed to this report.
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