With "Lethal Weapon 3" leading the way, followed closely by the sci-fi thriller "Alien 3," movie grosses soared to record levels during the Friday-through-Monday Memorial Day weekend.
The pace of business surpassed expectations for the start of summer moviegoing. The box office for the Top 10 movies in the market was up a healthy 41% from the same holiday period last year, according to industry sources. Box-office gross for the Top 10 movies was estimated to be $85.6 million, compared to $60 million a year ago.
"No doubt it will be a record weekend," said Exhibitor Relations Co.'s John Krier as he looked over the estimates for the weekend on Monday. But he said the final tallies won't be released until today.
"Lethal Weapon 3" earned $27.4 million for the four-day period and "Alien 3" brought in $25 million.
Of the three big-budget major studio releases battling it out, Universal Pictures' "Far and Away" came in third. The film, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and directed by Ron Howard, generated about half the box office of the top two films, an estimated $12.5 million. But the historical romance was playing on only 1,578 screens--about 1,000 fewer than "Weapon"--and its 2-hour-plus running time meant it had fewer showings than the others, a Universal spokesman said.
Universal had originally planned to release the film June 5, but changed it to take advantage of Cruise's popularity with women moviegoers on a weekend featuring two films that appeal strongly to men: "Lethal Weapon 3" and "Alien 3." On Monday, the studio expressed confidence in the movie's durability, saying it will expand the number of theaters on June 5, when many schools let out.
The problem for a film like "Far and Away," said sources in the exhibition business, is that it faces inevitable comparisons to the mega-hits dominating the market. On any other weekend, a $12.5-million opening would be considered big, but on the high-stakes weekend that the film industry uses as the launch of the lucrative summer moviegoing season, some saw the film's performance as a disappointment.
"Lethal Weapon 3," starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, opened May 15 with a record-setting weekend of $33.4 million. With the holiday weekend grosses, the estimated accumulated box-office gross is about $68 million in 11 days for the Warner Bros. film.
Twentieth Century Fox Executive Vice President Tom Sherak, whose company released "Alien 3," was elated by that film's showing, and called the weekend's grosses "great for the whole industry.
"We all need a major, major summer," he added, referring to last year's summer, which did not live up to expectations.
"Alien 3," starring Sigourney Weaver, had a far larger opening weekend than the two previous "Alien" films, even when accounting for ticket inflation. "Alien" opened in 1979 and grossed $2.6 million on a four-day weekend. The second, "Aliens," did $10 million on a three-day weekend in 1986.
Following the third-place "Far and Away" was the teen comedy "Encino Man," with MTV's Pauly Shore. The $7-million release from Walt Disney Pictures' Touchstone division generated about $10 million in ticket sales.
In fifth place was TriStar Pictures' long-running "Basic Instinct," with a gross of $3 million, bringing its accumulated total to just shy of $100 million. In descending order, the other Top 10 movies are: "Beethoven," $2.1 million; "The Player," $1.9 million; "White Men Can't Jump," $1.6 million; "My Cousin Vinny," $1.1 million, and "Wayne's World," $1 million.
The Memorial Day weekend is only the start of the summer. In the next month, Hollywood's major studios plan to release a number of other big productions, including Paramount Pictures' "Patriot Games" and Warner Bros.' "Batman Returns," the sequel to 1989's mega-hit "Batman."
Last year at this time, the film industry opened its summer without benefit of a sequel, breaking with the tradition of the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg era of blockbusters opening on Memorial Day weekend.
Among the new movies opening on Memorial Day weekend 1991 were "Backdraft," the ill-fated "Hudson Hawk" and the much-lauded "Thelma & Louise." None of them really took off.
"Backdraft" grossed $15.7 million on the holiday weekend, playing on 300 more screens than "Far and Away" opened on this year. "Hawk" did a fast nose dive, but recovered somewhat by the time it reached European markets and home video.
The weekend box-office chart will appear in Wednesday's Calendar.