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JACK MATHEWS

'Kong Lives' Dies At Box Office

December 24, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

Has anybody seen a big gorilla roaming around loose? Hairy fella, runny nose, bad teeth, about 50 feet tall with a keen eye for the ladies? Answers to the name "Kong"?

How did the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group do it? How did it manage to open "King Kong Lives," boss Dino's second Kong show, without anybody knowing it? What did they do, put a black jersey on him and slip him onto the field disguised as a Chicago Bears lineman? The way he played, he could have made the Raiders.

"King Kong Lives" opened in 1,105 theaters across the country Friday, but Kong could have brought his wife and kid (now you know the trouble De Laurentiis went to in this episode) to most of those theaters and had room to spread out. The movie grossed just $1.2 million over the weekend, placing 12th on the box-office chart and establishing itself as the season's first documented flop.

Did DEG make a mistake in not screening the film for critics? The reviews that it got after the opening were generally bad, but who would have expected anything else? Critic bites primate is not news.

By not having advance press screenings, DEG assured itself of two things: No bad reviews on opening day. And very little publicity. Editors aren't inclined to assign feature stories on movies their reporters cannot see, and even bad reviews--run alone--would have been accompanied by photos that would have at least tipped people to the ape's arrival.

Michelle Reese, head of DEG's marketing division, said there are no regrets at the studio over the decision to not pre-screen "King Kong Lives" to the press.

"We didn't think critics would like the movie," Reese said. "We felt they would find things about it that weren't to their liking, so we decided to open it based on the TV spots and trailers which we felt were terrific."

So, maybe the king is finally dead. Or maybe adventure fans are getting all the gorilla they need from Sylvester Stallone. Anyway, their ability to resist this installment--directed by the same John Guillerman who handled De Laurentiis' 1976 remake of the 1933 classic--has probably sealed Kong's Hollywood fate forever.

Those few fans who did show up for the opening weekend were not ready to recommend it. According to Cinemascore, a private exit poll service, viewers gave "King Kong Lives" an overall grade of D-plus. Even those who said they couldn't wait to see it rated it no better than a C.

Warner Bros. had a much better time with "Little Shop of Horrors," the Frank Oz musical comedy that it has been screening for more than a month. "Little Shop," riding a crest of rave reviews, got an overall A-minus rating from Cinemascore respondents and finished its opening weekend in fourth place on the box-office chart, taking in $3.7 million in 866 theaters.

The Eddie Murphy comedy-adventure "The Golden Child" again topped the list, but its business was down 32% from its opening weekend. "The Golden Child" grossed $7.9 million in 1,667 theaters, and has brought in $23.2 million in 10 days.

Paramount's other Christmas movie, "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," continued to play well, adding $5.8 million to a cumulative total that should pass $60 million by Friday. The studio put another 537 prints into circulation for the heavy two-week school vacation and seems certain to emerge as the holiday box-office champion.

Business dropped off for both Orion's "Three Amigos" ($4.3 million in 1,461 theaters, down 38%) and Warner Bros.' "Heartbreak Ridge" ($3.5 million in 1,647 theaters, down 26%), even while theaters were being added across the country. Meanwhile, "Crocodile Dundee"--the brash Australian import that is proving that even when Paramount falls into it, it falls into it--was running its three-month total to $106 million.

"Platoon," Orion's late entry in the Oscar race, opened in six theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto and moviegoers, responding to perhaps the strongest reviews of any film this year, filled them to overflowing.

Of the other new releases, Disney's reissue of "The Lady and the Tramp" fared best, with $2.8 million from 1,355 theaters. Tri-Star's "No Mercy," which begged for none and got none from critics, did $2.2 million in 1,206 theaters.

"Platoon" took in an average of $40,180 per theater, roughly nine times the average for "The Golden Child," 40 times that of old King Kong.

The Top 10: "The Golden Child," "Star Trek IV," "Three Amigos," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Heartbreak Ridge," "The Lady and the Tramp," "Crocodile Dundee," "No Mercy," "An American Tail," "Crimes of the Heart."

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