Many expected ”Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” to demolish every box office record set by ”The Lost World: Jurassic Park” in its 1997 opening weekend, but it had to settle for two out of three. Last Wednesday it beat ”Lost World”’s record for a one-day take ($28.5 million to $26.1 million), and ”Menace”’s five-day total — which put it at No. 1 for the weekend — was $105.7 million, beating the dinosaurs’ $98.8 million opening-five-day gross. However, when the numbers were crunched for just the Friday-to-Sunday take (the strict definition of a weekend gross), ”Lost World” still remains on top, having pulled in $72.2 million to ”Menace”’s $64.8 million. ”Menace” posted an astounding $20,808 per-screen average, which is unheard of except for limited-release pictures that are only playing in one or two theaters. (For comparison, a blockbuster on a great weekend would do about $8,000 per screen.)
Fox and Lucasfilm executives were quick to point out that records don’t matter to them when there’s this much cash pouring in, although Fox chairman Tom Sherak couldn’t resist mentioning that they were at a disadvantage because ”Lost World” opened on a Memorial Day weekend, when the audiences are bigger. ”If we wanted to set the record we would have released the picture next week,” Sherak told the Associated Press, before slipping back to blasé mode. ”This wasn’t about the records. This picture would have set any early record it wanted to set. It was never planned like that.”
As for the rest of the films in the Top 5 (hey, the people who couldn’t get ”Menace” tickets had to go SOMEwhere), they were ”The Mummy” ($13.1 million), ”Entrapment” ($5.8 million), and ”The Matrix” ($2.7 million). In fifth place, the debuting ”The Love Letter,” which hoped to capitalize on being the only romantic comedy to pull in the non-”Menace” crowd, didn’t get much love: It took in only $2.6 million… and very few people showed up dressed as Kate Capshaw.
Nowhere was the disagreement between critics and ”Menace” fans more evident than in our Critical Mass poll. While most critics were underwhelmed by George Lucas’ new offering (averaging a B grade), EW Online viewers gave it a shining A-. The key to ”Menace” heading to ”Titanic”-size grosses is repeat business, and a whopping 72 percent of EW Online readers said they were very likely to see the movie again. What’s more, 74 percent said they would definitely recommend the movie to others. Join the force: You can voice your opinion about ”Phantom Menace” and all the other current movies at Critical Mass.