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'Lethal Weapon,' 'Sister Act' Pack a Sales Punch : Box office: The two films dominate weekend ticket action. But 'Far and Away,' starring Tom Cruise, lags behind.

June 01, 1992|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two maverick cops and a singing nun carried the day at the nation's movie theaters during the weekend, while some in Hollywood fretted over the future of the big-budgeted romantic epic "Far and Away," starring Tom Cruise.

As it has for two previous weekends, the violence-laden "Lethal Weapon 3," with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as two Los Angeles police detectives, led the box-office tally, earning a smashing $15.3 million for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday period, according to industry estimates.

Ticket sales for the film, distributed by Warner Bros., now stand at about $90 million, after only 17 days.

The Whoopi Goldberg comedy "Sister Act," with the unorthodox comedian disguised as a nun, showed broad appeal as it raced to $11 million in its debut weekend. The Disney/Touchstone Pictures release pushed the sci-fi thriller "Alien 3," starring Sigourney Weaver, from second to third place. "Alien 3," distributed by 20th Century Fox, grossed about $8 million for the weekend and accumulated about $34 million since its May 22 opening.

Final figures will not be available until today, but overall business for the leading films is ahead of last year for the summer box-office season. The season, which accounts for about 40% of the year's moviegoing, began with a bang on May 15 with the opening of "Lethal Weapon 3." Business then surged during the four-day Memorial Day weekend, with the opening of "Alien 3," "Far and Away" and "Encino Man."

Not surprisingly, the figures for the just-ended non-holiday weekend reflect a drop, but of the leaders, it was "Alien 3" that took the biggest hit--since the core of "Alien" fans saw the film the first weekend.

By Sunday, it was clear to most of the industry that Universal Pictures' $60-million-plus "Far and Away" is far from a runaway hit that the studio needed. The movie grossed between $7.5 million and $8 million for fourth place. After 10 days in release, it has generated $23 million--which is not exactly setting the box office on fire, especially for a film with such a large budget.

Directed by Ron Howard, "Far and Away" casts Cruise and real-life wife Nicole Kidman as two Irish immigrants to America at the turn of the century. While the movie has star power (reportedly at least $12 million was paid to Cruise), last weekend it opened opposite two popular sequels that were playing in several hundred more theaters. This weekend, it competed with "Sister Act" for the non-action audience.

One Universal source defended "Far and Away," saying Universal's parent, MCA Inc., never counted on doing huge business with the lengthy period drama. "Demographically, this is not 'Lethal Weapon 3,' " the source said. But others argue that the film's disappointing showing could lead to management changes at the studio, which has recently lost market share. "Far and Away" is said to be Universal's costliest film since 1990's "Havana," starring Robert Redford, which did terrible business.

Si Kornblit, Universal's executive vice president of worldwide marketing, said Sunday that the studio feels good about the numbers to date. "In light of the competitive environment, we feel we're meeting expectations. We're particularly encouraged by audience reaction and word of mouth," he said.

Kornblit sees "Far and Away" as a summerlong film that fills the niche of a family oriented drama. "It's a suitable alternative to all the hard-action, male-oriented product," he said. "As a measure of our confidence, we're adding more theaters this Friday."

But there is no indication that Universal will find the competition any less intense. In fact, this Friday will see more major studio entries join the competition: "Patriot Games," with Harrison Ford, and a teen comedy "Class Act," with the rap duo Kid N' Play.

Likewise, Disney's Buena Vista Distribution President Richard Cook sees "Sister Act" continuing to be competitive as the only big-studio comedy in the market at the moment. On Sunday, Cook compared its potential to last summer's hit comedy "City Slickers."

Cook also noted that the Disney/Hollywood Pictures release of "Encino Man," with MTV's Pauly Shore, continued doing healthy business, especially for a film that was said to have cost only $7 million to produce and perhaps as much again to advertise and release. In any event, the movie sold $6 million in tickets for the weekend for fifth place, and has generated $18 million in its 10 days of release.

Times staff writer Alan Citron contributed to this report.

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