“Deep Impact” earned a whopping $41.15 million this weekend, accounting for 56% of all ticket sales and beating “Twister”‘s 1996 record ($41.06 million) for the biggest non-holiday, non-summer weekend take. Analysts couldn’t have been more surprised if a tidal wave had crashed over their city. “No one in a million years predicted the film would take in $41 million,” says Robert Bucksbaum of the box office analysis service Reel Source. “We projected a $20 million opening, and Paramount [which coproduced the film with DreamWorks] thought that was overly optimistic.”
“Impact”‘s only opening competition last weekend was “Woo” (which grossed just $2.5 million), and Paramount capitalized on this empty market by unleashing a wave of TV and print publicity. “Hollywood basically proved that the more dollars you throw at marketing, especially in the sci-fi genre, the bigger impact you’ll have on opening weekend,” says Jae Kim, associate analyst at Paul Kagan Associates. Also boosting the take: an effective trailer — featuring a killer tidal wave approaching New York City — which scored a sky-high 9.4 in audience interest (on a 1 to 10 scale) on a Reel Source poll.
Bucksbaum predicts that “Deep Impact” will eventually earn $135 million. He even thinks it might take a small bite out of that giant lizard when it starts its theatrical rampage next Wednesday. But “Godzilla,” which Bucksbaum predicts will earn $100 million in its first weekend, won’t be running scared. “Nothing,” admits Bucksbaum, “is really going to stop it.”