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No Easter Basket for Box Office : Movies: 'Basic Instinct' winds up in first place over the holiday weekend, but business so far this year is down about 9%.

April 20, 1992|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sex and gore led the Easter Parade at the movies as TriStar Pictures' "Basic Instinct," starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, wound up in first place with an estimated gross of $6.6 million for the Good Friday through Easter Sunday period.

But the weekend's grosses for all movies in the marketplace could have been stronger, considering it was the peak of the spring-break season, when moviegoing typically gets a lift. The weekend before, for example, when "Basic Instinct" came in second, it grossed $7.8 million.

Although final figures will not be available until today, estimates from industry sources on Sunday indicated that the total box-office take for the weekend--while stronger than most weekends this year--will not be enough to put box-office grosses on a par with the same period a year ago.

So far, 1992 has been running about 9% below last year, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., a box-office data tracking firm. The difference is about $200 million, or the gross from two or three fewer hit films this year.

The 1991 box-office results, estimated by the entertainment industry newspaper Daily Variety at $4.8 billion, were the third best ever, thanks to the strong showing of the Christmas season movies. That year-end finale suggested to many that things weren't as bad as they had seemed during the August to mid-November period, when Hollywood couldn't seem to produce a hit film to save itself.

Yet even a bright spin on the state of the business at the end of the year wasn't enough to offset the doldrums caused by higher ticket prices, costly budgets, flat domestic theatrical and video markets, and shrinking profit margins for producers and theater owners. The lone bright spot was the international arena for American films. So far this year, nothing has changed.

Up until Easter weekend, some in the industry had speculated that one reason for this year's seemingly slower box-office pace was because the spring-break period fell earlier a year ago.

Michael Patrick, chief executive officer of the multi-state, Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas circuit, suggested that this year also has not had such $100-million grossers as "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Sleeping With the Enemy," or as many holdover hits from Christmas as there were a year ago.

"January was a strong month this year, but February fell short," Patrick said. "Now that we've gotten through that period, we're seeing increases across the board as each state is taking different spring-break vacations."

In addition, other sources noted that this year did not benefit from the usual boost in business that comes with the February announcement of Academy Award nominations, since most of the nominees had already played themselves out at the box office by New Year's Day. That was in marked contrast, for example, to the enormous boost "Dances With Wolves" received last year when the nominations were announced.

This year's first $100-million movie, "Wayne's World," achieved that mark over the just-ended weekend as it added $3.2 million to its total. But that comedy spoof about two heavy metal headbangers is the exception. From there on, the pickings of hit pictures are slim.

So far in 1992, only two other movies--"The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" (with about $80.7 million) and "Basic Instinct" (with about $66 million)--have topped $50 million in ticket sales.

This weekend's results will do little to cheer up the industry, since it wasn't enough to start closing the gap from last year, said Exhibitor Relations' owner John Krier. But at least the "business was spread around," he added.

After "Basic Instinct," in second place was the comedy "White Men Can't Jump," which pulled an estimated $6.5 million for 20th Century Fox.

Ranked third was the family film "Beethoven," from Universal Pictures, which did about $6 million in business.

In fourth was "Stephen King's Sleepwalkers" from Columbia Pictures, collecting an estimated $5 million, down about 50% from its first-place showing a week earlier.

Fifth place went to Universal's "The Babe," the bio of baseball legend Babe Ruth, starring John Goodman. But $4.6 million for an opening weekend in wide release isn't considered a homer.

Neither were the totals for other films that debuted.

TriStar's release of Roland Joffe's "City of Joy," with Patrick Swayze, pulled in only about $3.4 million on 842 screens. New Line Cinema's "Deep Cover," an action picture with Larry Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum, opened to an estimated $3.3 million. Paramount Pictures' "Brain Donors" pulled in only $500,000, and the much-delayed "Brenda Starr," with Brook Shields, distributed by the Triumph Releasing branch of Sony Pictures Entertainment, opened to numbers that were so low that figures were not immediately available.

Meanwhile, the Sony Pictures Classics release of "Howards End," based on the novel by E. M. Forster from Merchant Ivory Productions, did major business. On only 10 screens nationwide, the film has pulled in $541,000, the bulk of which came in the Friday-Saturday-Sunday period. At the Royal Theater in West Los Angeles, the film broke the house record with $47,343 for the weekend.

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