Moviegoers shelled out $25.3 million at the weekend box office to see a quartet of heroic, man-size, pizza-eating, surf jargon-spouting "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." The film paced an unusually active weekend at the movies that saw "Pretty Woman" outperform its first weekend in release and also saw business jump for Oscar winners "Driving Miss Daisy" and "My Left Foot."
But the heroes of the box office were New Line Cinema's heroes on the half shell. The PG-rated movie had the third biggest three-day opening ever, following Warners Bros.' "Batman" ($42.7 million) and Columbia's "Ghostbusters II" ($29.4 million).
As a result of Turtle madness, some multi-plex exhibitors opted on opening day to play the film on more than one screen. The film opened on 2,006 screens rather than the originally planned 1,956, according to a New Line spokeswoman, for a high per-screen average of $12,661.
The Turtles' business was startling, especially considering that an estimated 50% of its moviegoers consisted of what New Line deemed the film's "core audience"--5 to 12-year-olds, whose tickets cost only about one-half the price of an adult ticket.
But they weren't the only ones who snapped up business over the weekend.
Created for the comics in 1984, Raphael, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Leonardo--the former small-size pet store turtles who underwent a transformation after their owner dropped them into some radioactive goo--are stars of a hit animated TV series, as well as extensive merchandising: an estimated $110 million in Turtles merchandise was sold last year by Playmates Toys Inc.
The Turtles' movie was produced for a relatively modest $12 million by Golden Harvest--a company best known for martial arts pictures starring Hong Kong talent. The film has no stars other than the human-size, animatronic Turtles, created amid top-secrecy by Muppetmaster Jim Henson.
On other box-office fronts for the big weekend:
* Touchstone's "Pretty Woman," the Pygmalion-like romance about a corporate executive who turns a hooker into his fair lady, sold $12.4 million in tickets--for the No. 2 spot, and an increase of about 16% over the week before. The film, which went from 1,325 screens to 1,538 screens, has now grossed more than $28 million.
* In third place was Paramount's stalwart submarine thriller, "The Hunt for Red October," which commanded another $6.5 million in ticket sales--for a cumulative of $76.5 million.
* Fueled by its Oscars for best picture, best actress (Jessica Tandy) and best screenplay, Warner Bros.' "Driving Miss Daisy" was fourth, with receipts of approximately $5.3 million--a 46% increase over the week before. (The number of theaters at which it played increased by just a little.)
* Miramax's "My Left Foot," which earned Oscars for best actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and best supporting actress (Brenda Fricker), had grosses of about $1.1 million at 510 theaters--for a 34% increase over the week before and a 9th-place ranking. The moving drama about the life of disabled artist Christy Brown has now grossed about $10 million.
Universal's "Opportunity Knocks," starring "Saturday Night Live's" Dana Carvey, got off to an uneventful start with $3.5 million in ticket sales.
And despite its Oscar for best director (Oliver Stone), Universal's "Born on the Fourth of July" dropped 27% from the previous weekend, for grosses of just over $1 million. Its cumulative ticket sales are now about $67 million.