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Nice Guys Finish First : 'Roger Rabbit' Hops to Box-Office Top; 'Coming to America' Hits 2nd

January 05, 1989|NINA J. EASTON | Times Staff Writer

Susan Sarandon received critical acclaim--not to mention audible sighs from men in the audience--for her portrayal of the sexy baseball queen in "Bull Durham." That summer release from Orion ranked 13th for the year. And Barbara Hershey received plenty of attention for her performances in "A World Apart," "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Beaches," the current Disney/Touchstone release in which she co-stars with Bette Midler.

Every year has its sleepers, films that no one in Hollywood pays much attention to--until they become overnight sensations. In the fall of 1987, Paramount's "Fatal Attraction," the violent story of a single woman's obsessive love for a married man, took the country by storm. Still a subject as touchy as religion or politics at the dinner table, "Fatal Attraction" grossed nearly $157 million at the box office.

This year's sleepers were of a gentler nature. Warner's "Beetlejuice" which ranked seventh among the year's films, was a warm comedy, while MGM/UA's "A Fish Called Wanda," ranking eighth, offered plenty of barbed wit.

Despite the public's new-found niceness, horror thrived.

According to Entertainment Data, 25 horror films grossing a total of $232 million were released in 1988, a 4% increase over 1987 even though 26 horror films were released that year. Typically, horror films are cheap to make, and the advertising and distribution of them is targeted at a narrow audience of teens. In other words, it doesn't take much of a box-office performance to turn a profit--and thereby qualify as a success.

The fourth installment of New Line Cinema's "Nightmare on Elm Street," which cost $6.5 million to make, led all '88 horror films with $49 million in grosses. Next came MGM/UA's "Child Play" (it cost $14 million and grossed $29 million), Universal's "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (it cost $8 million and grossed nearly $20 million), and Paramount's "Friday the 13th: Part 7" (it cost $4.5 million and grossed $19.2 million.)

There was no shortage of sequels during 1988--25 of them were released, grossing $525 million, according to Entertainment Data. In 1987, 20 were released.

But for the most part, moviegoers seemed to prefer original fare. While they sent " 'Crocodile' Dundee 2" over the $100-million mark, they managed to ignore most of the others. Among the disappointing sequels of 1988 were Warner's "Caddyshack 2," Tri-Star's "Iron Eagle 2," Disney/Touchstone's "Return to Snowy River," Warner's "Arthur 2 on the Rocks," MGM/UA's "Poltergeist 3" and Paramount's "Big Top Pee-Wee."

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