Fending off an assault by two insurgents, "Batman Returns" was expected to hold onto its first-place box office position over the Fourth of July weekend, edging out new releases, "A League of Their Own" and "Boomerang," and doing an estimated $14.6 million business nationwide.
The runner-up "League," a comedy about a women's baseball team starring Geena Davis, was projected to take in $14 million in the three-day period, making it Columbia Pictures' second-biggest opening of all time (after "Ghostbusters II" in 1989), according to studio spokesman Mark Gill.
"Boomerang," starring Eddie Murphy as a lady-killer who gets his comeuppance, was expected to finish third, with an estimated $13.3 million in box office receipts, Paramount officials said. By other calculations, the margin in the neck-in-neck race between "League" and "Boomerang" was predicted to be as narrow as $200,000.
The R-rated "Boomerang" led on the actual holiday, grossing $4.1 million Saturday, compared to $3.9 million for "Batman" and $3.8 million for "League." The comedy, which brought in an impressive $3 million when it opened Wednesday, had been considered a possible contender for first place.
Saying he was pleased with the film's performance, Barry London, president of Paramount's Motion Picture Group, saw hopeful signs for the industry as a whole. "There are three movies in the marketplace which have done an extraordinary amount of business," he said.
This summer's mega-hit, "Batman Returns," has posted $123.8 million in box office receipts after three weeks, according to Robert Friedman, Warner Bros. worldwide president for advertising and publicity.
In fourth place was the relatively long-running "Sister Act," which was anticipated to draw $7 million, only a small drop over the previous weekend. The picture, starring Whoopi Goldberg as a singer who goes underground as a nun, has grossed more than $76.7 million in its first six weeks.
Weekend estimates are an inexact science, in which studios rely on past experience to predict Sunday movie attendance. Official figures will be released today.
Analysts and studio executives said overall business was good over the weekend, even though the Fourth fell on Saturday, forcing moviegoing to compete with barbecues and fireworks. Many, but not all, businesses were closed on Friday.
In addition, no brand-new blockbuster of the magnitude of last year's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" stormed into the theaters just in time for the holiday. The Arnold Schwarzenegger sequel sold $52.3 million worth of tickets over a longer period last year, when the Fourth fell on a Thursday.
"You can't expect the same returns at the box office when the holiday falls on a Saturday," noted John Krier of the box-office data service Exhibitor Relations Co. "And this year, you had three top hits competing against each other."
Slipping from second to fifth place over the weekend was "Unlawful Entry," starring Ray Liotta and Kurt Russell, which exceeded 20th Century Fox's expectations when it took in $10.7 million in its first weekend. The picture was expected to pull in $6.5 million in its second weekend.
In sixth place was Universal's "Housesitter," followed by "Patriot Games" and "Pinocchio." Though dropping one notch from last week, the re-released Disney animated feature may have picked up slightly from last week's $3.1 million in gross receipts.
"Lethal Weapon 3" and "Far and Away" were expected to be in ninth and 10th places, respectively.