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Santa Gives Filmmakers a Holiday Surge : Movies: 'Hook' leads with an estimated $23 million for the five-day Christmas period. 'Father of the Bride' and 'Prince of Tides' pull in about $15 million each.

December 30, 1991|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moviegoers are headed for pirates and beasts and brides and tides this holiday season.

That was the verdict at the nation's box offices for the long holiday weekend that began Christmas Day and ended Sunday. The period brought a surge of ticket sales and joy to Hollywood, and the increased level of moviegoing is expected to continue this week, New Year's Day and into the weekend.

The hot box-office action was fueled by a parade of popular movies--ranging from fantasy to adult drama to action. Number one for the third weekend in a row was "Hook," Steven Spielberg's big-budgeted retelling of the Peter Pan fable, which grossed an estimated $23 million for the five-day period.

According to estimates provided by various industry sources, "Hook" was followed in descending order by "Father of the Bride" with $15.5 million, "The Prince of Tides" with $15.4 million, "Beauty and the Beast" with $15 million and "The Last Boy Scout" with $11.8 million.

In sixth place with an estimated $10.9 million was Oliver Stone's controversial "JFK." "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" came in seventh with about $10.1 million, the much-lauded "Bugsy" drew an estimated $9.1 million for eighth place, "The Addams Family" did about $9 million for ninth place and "My Girl" collected $6 million for 10th place.

All in all, business took a leap from figures the week before, with some movie grosses jumping by nearly 50%.

The long weekend was, as TriStar Pictures executives had predicted, the "prime time for the holiday business." TriStar, which is the distributor of "Hook" and "Bugsy," took heat when "Hook" opened to softer-than-expected numbers on Dec. 11. But officials kept insisting that business would grow. As of Sunday, "Hook" has taken in an estimated $58.1 million, making it the third highest-grossing film of the season.

The holiday box-office leaders, however, are two films that opened in November: "The Addams Family," with $89 million to date, and "Beauty and the Beast" with $63 million to date.

Overall, business for the leading films appeared to be on a par with the five-day post-Christmas period a year ago, said John Krier, owner of Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc., a company that tracks movie grosses. Last year, "Home Alone" drew about $25 million in the five days after Christmas and "The Godfather Part III" collected $19.5 million.

However, Krier said the way holidays and weekends change from one year to the next makes comparisons difficult.

One possible point of comparison was this Christmas period versus the recent long Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend. But even that was inconclusive. In the just-concluded five-day period, the Top 5 films did an estimated $81 million, while the Top 5 did about $79 million during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Movie grosses are always a source of interest for the film industry but especially during the key moviegoing periods of the summer and Christmas holidays. This year, there appears to have been a greater emphasis as a result of a rocky economic year and the recession. The film industry has had its share of rising production costs and major flops, and believed that consumers cut back on ticket buying.

From the start of 1991 it has been a roller-coaster year for movie grosses. The year got off in a strong way with such carry-over hit films as "Home Alone" and "Dances With Wolves" from 1990, plus such winter hits as "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Sleeping With the Enemy."

Box-office numbers then dipped sharply in spring and peaked during early summer with such giant hits as "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "City Slickers" and "Naked Gun 2 1/2." But after July, it was downhill again and business continued that way until just before Thanksgiving when Paramount Pictures' "The Addams Family," gave the box office a much-needed jump start.

For the full year, which for the purposes of box-office tabulations, doesn't end until Jan. 2, Exhibitor Relations is predicting the total gross to be the third highest ever. Krier said the national gross should reach $4.71 billion. If those numbers hold, that would put the year behind only 1989 and 1990 as the best box-office years.

The dollar figures, however, mask a downturn in the actual number of tickets sold, due to ever-increasing ticket costs. The entertainment industry trade newspaper Daily Variety has estimated that overall movie attendance for 1991 will hit a 15-year low of 960 million admissions.

But even at that, the paper said, the number falls within the historical 30-year average of about 1 billion tickets sold annually. The peak year was 1.2 billion tickets in 1984, and the low was 820.3 million in 1971.

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