Warner Bros. was back in the saddle and riding tall Sunday with the rousing $14.5-million opening weekend of Clint Eastwood's Western drama "Unforgiven." It was the latest summer hit from the studio that already has given moviegoers "Batman Returns" and "Lethal Weapon 3."
But weekend business was sour for most other films, according to industry estimates. Sources in the exhibition business said that the box-office slump is a continuation of a downward trend that has lingered since the busy July 4th weekend and is the result of few distinctive new movies and competition from the last two weeks of televised summer Olympics coverage.
Last week's box-office leader, "Death Becomes Her," plunged nearly 40%, and such new films as "Raising Cain" and "Whispers in the Dark" performed miserably. A severe lack of business basically put the stake through "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."
The success of "Unforgiven" marks a comeback of sorts for Eastwood and the Western genre. Movie critics, who gave the non-traditional story mostly glowing reviews, pointed out that the film is notable for its casting of veteran actors Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris and that, with its serious tone, is a break from usual summer fare.
As a Western, "Unforgiven" ventured into a virtual motion picture frontier, if the last decade is considered. Among the few that were released, Eastwood's own 1985 "Pale Rider" was his most recent. In 1988, "Young Guns" scored well and was followed by a sequel. But the popularity of "Young Guns" was attributed more to the casting of such youthful actors as Emilio Estevez, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen and Keifer Sutherland than to a demand by the public for cowboys and outlaws.
The weekend's second-place film was the black comedy "Death Becomes Her," which Universal Pictures had been hoping would salvage it from a depressing summer. It dropped to an estimated $7.5 million.
In third was Brian DePalma's thriller "Raising Cain," which did a soft $6.2 million in its opening. Another weekend debut was another thriller, "Whispers in the Dark" from Paramount, with only $3 million.
The tongue-and-cheek "Buffy," which did poor business a week earlier, failed to attract the teen audience that 20th Century Fox was seeking. It scored about $2.5 million.