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Business Sense

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It was supposed to be the weekend of the witch. Box office pundits predicted indie phenom The Blair Witch Project would sweep the cineplexes Aug. 6-8; instead, The Sixth Sense, the Bruce Willis-starring ghost story, put a hex on the competition, grabbing $26.7 million to Blair’s $24.3 million. ”We were the antihype,” says Sense director M. Night Shyamalan. ”We came in under the radar.” So what went into Disney’s stealth hit? A witches’ brew of well-timed previews, a twisty ending, and an apparent hunger for nonironic, post-Scream spookfests. And perhaps the key ingredient: the year’s creepiest trailer, starring eerie tyke Haley Joel Osment. ”Trailers are extremely important, and [Disney] is simply at the top,” says Tom Borys of box office tracking firm ACNielsen EDI. In fact, the Sense-ation may have come down to a single whispered phrase. ”It sure helped having that little boy say ‘I see dead people,”’ says Richard Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. ”That tells you everything you needed to know about the movie.”