YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

New Year Opens With a Bang at Box Office : Movies: Lower-profile films like 'Green Card' will be moving to wider release with surprisingly good box office.


Amid all the headlines about the season's big hits and misses--a number of end-of-the-year movies have quietly made news while playing on only few screens.

And now that some of the bigger films are being crushed in the stampede, some of these limited release movies are poised to squeeze into the race--armed with impressive opening box-office figures, word-of-mouth and, in some cases, excellent reviews.

Leading the group is the romantic comedy, "Green Card," which had a startling per-screen average of $72,053 at only two theaters--one in Los Angeles and the other in New York. Starring France's Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell, the Touchstone Pictures' title is distributed by Buena Vista, which plans to widen the film to some 150 screens--in all the major markets--on Jan. 11. A week later, "Green Card" will expand to about 700 screens. But first up is a special "sneak preview" on Friday night.

Set for 200 theaters in 40 markets, the preview is expected to "really get the film rolling," according to Buena Vista distribution president David Cook, who explains "we are nurturing this film along." According to Cook, Buena Vista is also mimicking the method it used to launch the company's "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987), also released during the holiday season. (The film went on to gross in excess of $132 million.)

Columbia Pictures is likewise widening its strong limited-release performer, "Awakenings." Starring Robin Williams as a neurologist who discovers a "miracle" treatment for post-encephalitic patients--including Robert De Niro--the film averaged $41,833 on 12 screens over the holiday weekend. With grosses of $1.1 million, the Penny Marshall-directed drama will will have a sneak preview on Saturday on 950 screens. Then, reports James Spitz, president of domestic distribution, it jumps from its dozen theaters to 1,350 of them, on Jan. 11.

Pointing to solid reviews, and "incredible word-of-mouth, based on our exit polls," Spitz says the studio isn't worried about competing with high-profile fare like "The Godfather Part III."

"If anything," says Spitz, " they should be worried about us . We know we have the goods." Pointing to the "widening demographics" of what was initially thought to be an adult-oriented title, he adds, "We think we're going to get everybody with this picture."

Woody Allen's "Alice"--which opened on Christmas Day--has also startled some industry watchers. But Orion Pictures is taking a cautionary wait-and-see approach to the whimsical fantasy, which stars Allen's favorite leading lady, Mia Farrow.

With a nod to its strong weekend per-screen average of $59,333 on three screens, president of distribution David Forbes notes, "Woody Allen films always perform well--though in this case the feeling is that this movie may be more accessible. It's a little different for Woody." The film is expected to widen in late January.

Other limited release titles with strong performances over the holiday weekend included:

"Hamlet" (Warner Bros.), weekend take of $245,939 on five screens, for a per-screen average of $49,188 (cumulative to date: $401,832) and "Come See the Paradise" (Fox), $110,968 on five screens, for a per-screen average of $22,193 (cumulative to date: $203,741).

Los Angeles Times Articles