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Action Films Punch Up Ticket Sales to $5 Billion in N. America : Movies: Summertime moviegoers made up for lackluster holiday season in record box office year.


North America's movie theaters reaped a record $5 billion-plus at the box office in 1989, powered by the punch of "Batman" and other highly promoted action films.

Despite a lackluster Christmas holiday season, summertime moviegoers spun the turnstiles at such a dizzying pace that the box office record of $4.45 billion from 1988 was smashed, according to figures released Tuesday.

The box-office total, based on industry estimates, was set by fewer films: 446 features made their debuts in 1989, down 13% from the previous year.

In the studio-by-studio race, Warner Bros. was No. 1 with an estimated 17.1% share of all American and Canadian tickets sold.

The studio's "Batman" was the year's biggest blockbuster. Its $251.2 million in ticket sales was fifth-highest in history.

Disney, which some analysts did not expect to be competitive, finished fifth with a healthy 13.8% share.

Although part of the revenue surge is attributable to higher ticket prices, admissions are projected to be greater than last year.

In large part, the record year was propelled by expensive and heavily marketed star vehicles such as "Batman," and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," which made $196 million, and "Lethal Weapon 2," which collected $147 million, according to trade publications and private research firms.

Right behind, the lightly regarded "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" emerged as 1989's No. 4 film with receipts of $130 million. It was followed by the 1988 holdover "Rain Man" $127 million.

The rest of the year's top 10 are "Ghostbusters II," $112 million; "Look Who's Talking," $109 million; "Parenthood," $95 million; "Dead Poets Society," $94 million, and "When Harry Met Sally . . . , " $91 million.

Owing partly to cold weather and that Christmas fell on a Monday, this year's holiday season was off from a year ago. The scarce hits included "Back to the Future Part II" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

The year's biggest flops include "Casualties of War," "Blaze," "We're No Angels," "Old Gringo," "Fat Man and Little Boy," "The Abyss" and just about every movie from the Orion studios: "She-Devil," "Valmont," "Great Balls of Fire," "Erik the Viking" and "Heart of Dixie."

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