The holiday movie season got a rousing send-off over the weekend, with the horror sequel "Child's Play II" taking the No. 1 spot with $10.7 million at the turnstiles, and "Dances With Wolves" riding to glory in limited release, with ticket sales of $598,257 on 14 screens--for the year's highest per-screen average, of $42,733.
The slate even got a boost from "Ghost," the seemingly eternal summer holdover. The Paramount Pictures film jumped 37% to take third place over the weekend with $4.3 million in ticket sales, a feat some sources attributed to reports that "Ghost" was the year's top-grossing film to date.
"We're definitely on our way for the holidays," declared John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations, which provides box-office information to exhibitors.
Krier predicted healthy numbers for films set to open through Christmas. "This is the earliest we've ever gotten started--and the signs are certainly more than healthy," he said.
"Child's Play II" is a follow-up to the 1988 sleeper about a murderous doll named Chucky. The Universal Pictures sequel opened on 1,996 screens for a solid per-screen average of $5,370.
The first "Child's Play" with the murderous pint-size doll opened on Nov. 9, 1988, to $8 million on 1,377 screens, an average of $4,781 per screen.
But it was the per-screen numbers for "Dances With Wolves"--some of the highest in recent years--that sent the industry buzzing.
Its $42,733 gives it one of the highest platformed-openings of recent years, following "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987) with $48,577 and "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989) with $43,005.
Flanked by a massive marketing and publicity campaign--including lots of press coverage of star/first-time director Kevin Costner--"Dances With Wolves" opened to largely positive reviews, the New York Times being a major exception.
Because of the film's three-hour length and the fact that Westerns have not done well at the box office lately, "Dances" was considered a gamble.
But based on opening weekend figures, Orion executives are anticipating a hit.
"This is one of those times when everything came together--including the fact that we had an exceptional film to work with," said David Forbes, president of distribution.
Currently in release in eight cities--Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco and Toronto, "Dances" will widen to approximately 1,000 screens Nov. 21.
Elsewhere at the weekend box office:
Tri-Star Pictures' psychological thriller "Jacob's Ladder"--which last week dominated the box office--dropped a rung and more than 30%, to the No. 2 spot with ticket sales of about $5.1 million.
Columbia Pictures' comedy, "Sibling Rivalry" was in fourth place, with ticket sales of approximately $3 million, and Warner Bros.' "Reversal of Fortune" ranked fifth, with grosses of about $2.5 million.