While most movies are suffering in the current box-office slump, the year's biggest hit, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," is expected to pass the $200-million mark in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales Friday night.
But the success of "Terminator 2," which opened July 3, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the movie business since late summer. Only a handful of the roughly 35 major releases that have opened since then have made a dent at the nation's box offices. And the impact of "T2" began fading by Labor Day weekend.
Without any dominant hit film to lure customers, autumn ticket sales are down 12% to 13% from last year, according to estimates made by Art Murphy, box-office analyst for the trade paper Daily Variety.
In addition to its strong performance in this country, "Terminator 2" has generated ticket sales of $170 million in 30 nations as of last weekend.
The movie's producer, Carolco Pictures, estimates that when overseas runs are completed, "Terminator 2" will have an international gross nearing $250 million. That would put it ahead of last year's mega-hit, "Home Alone," which had overseas box office of $222 million. It also surpasses the overseas grosses of such other action films as "Rambo: First Blood Part II" ($150 million) and "Total Recall" ($145 million).
Carolco executives say "T2" is setting records in Germany ($8 million in five days), and France ($16 million in two weeks), as well as in more difficult markets such as Brazil ($8 million) and South Korea ($9 million). The Italian and Spanish markets have not been tapped yet, but the movie has sold $30 million in tickets in the United Kingdom and $51 million in Japan since opening in August.
The $200 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales means that "Terminator 2" becomes the 13th highest-grossing picture among U.S. box-office champs (surpassing "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and just behind the original "Back to the Future"), according to Exhibitor Relations Co., a firm that tracks box-office grosses.
For Carolco and distributor TriStar Pictures, the movie's enormous success vindicates the nearly $100-million investment for production, advertising, Schwarzenegger's estimated $12.5-million salary and director James Cameron's $6-million fee. Carolco executives say the budget also included a multimillion-dollar settlement for rights to make the sequel to the original "Terminator"--the 1984 surprise hit that cost a mere $6.5 million and grossed more than $38 million domestically.
Although Carolco officials acknowledge they stand to make a large profit off the film from its various incarnations (the video is due in stores Dec. 11), they would not comment on one published estimate that the profit might be as much as $65 million.
Meanwhile, the fall's biggest-grossing movie so far has been New Line Pictures' "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare," which opened in early September and drew $33.1 million--a strong performance for a film with a cult following and no major name stars. Next was TriStar Pictures' "The Fisher King" with $30.9 million as of Monday, but considered a disappointing result for a major studio release with two name actors, Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.
"There's been no one, single movie to carry us through the fall like we've had in the past," said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co. In previous years, Krier said, the usually slow autumn season has been offset by hits like "Fatal Attraction," "Crocodile Dundee" and "Ghost."
Among moderate hits, Paramount Pictures' late-August release of "Dead Again," with $35 million to date, proved surprisingly strong. Touchstone Pictures' "The Doctor," starring William Hurt, made it to $37 million.
The jury is still out on Jodie Foster's "Little Man Tate," "House Party 2," "Curly Sue" and "Other People's Money."
However, another recent release, "Frankie & Johnny," with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, hasn't found a large following. And movies like "Rambling Rose," "Paradise," "Shattered," "The Butcher's Wife" and "The Super," among others, seem to be doing a disappearing act, but none so fast as Paramount's "Stepping Out," which stars Liza Minnelli and opened with a splashy TV ad campaign. By the third week, "Stepping Out" had sold only $208,872 in tickets in a very limited opening, and is no longer being tracked by box-office services.