“A Civil Action” took first place this weekend with an estimated $14.5 million, benefiting from the fact that it was the only new wide release in theaters. Although Disney brags that this was the largest January opening or expansion ever, the claim is a bit anticlimactic when compared to other non-opening movie performances in box offices past: The “Star Wars” rerelease took in $35.9 million on the weekend of Jan. 31, 1997; and “Titanic,” which debuted in December 1997, took in $28.7 million a year ago this weekend. (“Titanic” continued to pull in more than $25 million each weekend throughout the month.)
Following “Action” on the charts: “Patch Adams” ($12 million), “Stepmom” ($8 million), “You’ve Got Mail” ($7.7 million), and “The Prince of Egypt” ($5.8 million). Meanwhile, smaller expanding films continue to show promise. “Shakespeare in Love” added more than 300 theaters and still pulled in $6,646 per theater (compared to “Patch Adams”‘ $4,435), for a $4.2 million take. And “The Thin Red Line” spread to 61 theaters (from 7), and grabbed $1.2 million, with a whopping $19,672 per theater. However, the real test comes next week when the ponderous, nearly three-hour film expands nationally to some 1,600 theaters. Now that will be a battle.