Count "Dracula" as one of the biggest box-office hits of the year, right after "Batman Returns" and "Lethal Weapon 3."
Columbia Pictures estimated Sunday that its release of Francis Ford Coppola's production of "Bram Stoker's Dracula," will sell an extraordinary $32-million worth of tickets in 2,491 theaters in its premiere weekend.
The level of business came as a surprise to many in the film industry who figured "Dracula" would open big, but more in the $20-million range. Reviews for the movie were decidedly mixed, as has been the track record of movies directed by the much-admired Coppola in recent years. But turn-away crowds greeted "Dracula" at most theaters, and Columbia reported that the usual pattern of increasing sales from Friday night to Saturday night was, as a spokesman said, "impossible, since we were playing to capacity on Friday."
The unexpected "Dracula" gross cast a shadow over the rest of the films currently in the field, and accounted for nearly 50% of all weekend business. But that's not to say that box office was anemic for the rest of the bunch. To the contrary, industry sources estimated that the total for all movies during the weekend would be about $65 million, compared to $37 million for the comparable weekend a year ago. Final figures will be released today.
Looking to next weekend, box-office activity is expected to zoom into high holiday-level gear, with the arrival of the much-anticipated "Malcolm X" on Wednesday and the family comedy "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" on Friday.
"I think there will be a lot of solid, formidable competition between now and New Year's Day," said Syd Ganis, Columbia president of marketing and distribution. "It's certainly been a merry weekend for this studio."
Ganis said the $40-million Coppola production, which was one of the first films a year ago to receive a go-ahead from incoming Columbia Chairman Mark Canton, is the biggest opening weekend in the studio's history and is the seventh biggest opening for the industry.
According to other industry sources, "Dracula" also establishes the record as the biggest opening of a non-summer film.
The $32-million "Dracula" weekend gross follows "Batman Returns" with $47.7 million and "Lethal Weapon 3" with $33.2 million at the beginning of last summer's season. But "Dracula's" performance is even more impressive when set against last year's top-grossing film, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," which had the advantage of premiering during a long July 4th holiday weekend. That picture, distributed by Columbia's sister studio TriStar, under parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment, jumped off with $31.7 million in its first few days.
Ganis said the weekend's results "bode well for the whole industry. This is about people getting used to going to the movies and not feeling disappointed." And, based on positive exit surveys, he predicted "Dracula," which casts Gary Oldman as the bloodthirsty title character, would hold up against the oncoming competition.
The weekend's other major movie opening was no less potent, but on a smaller scale. Walt Disney's "Aladdin" grossed $200,000 in only two theaters--the El Capitan in Los Angeles and the Cinema 1 in New York. At the El Capitan, "Aladdin" had a stronger opening than Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" a year ago. "Aladdin," which features the voice of Robin Williams as the Genie, will open nationally on Nov. 25.
The weekend's second-ranking movie was Warner Bros.' "Passenger 57," which did an estimated $7.3 million, followed by Columbia's "A River Runs Through It," with $4.1 million. Warners' "Under Siege" and Disney's "The Mighty Ducks" each did around $4 million.
"Ducks" was aided on Saturday night by preview showings of "Aladdin" in some theaters. Disney said it would show "Aladdin" with "Ducks" again Sunday.