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'Sleepless' Surprises Hollywood : Movies: Romantic comedy opens with a strong $17 million; 'Last Action Hero' falls 50% at box office. 'Jurassic Park' collects another $28 million.

June 28, 1993|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arriving in theaters with substantially less fanfare than the anticipated summer blockbuster films, the little romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle" zoomed to an estimated $17-million box-office gross in its opening weekend--a total that surprised the film industry and surpassed the $15.3-million opening recorded for the big-budgeted, fantasy-adventure extravaganza "Last Action Hero" a week ago.

In the just-ended weekend, ticket sales for "Last Action Hero," which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, took an inauspicious plunge of nearly 50% to $8 million. The $80-million Columbia Pictures release, which had been touted as one of the summer's big movie attractions, has a total of $30 million after 10 days--a disappointment by Schwarzenegger standards.

Meanwhile, back at the bank . . . the box-office grosses for "Jurassic Park" continued to amaze the film business.

Universal Pictures said the Steven Spielberg dinosaur horror film collected another $28 million during its third weekend, for a total of $171.5 million after 17 days of release. With the long July 4th holiday weekend approaching, "Jurassic Park" is bound for $200 million within the week--which would make it the fastest film to achieve that box-office milestone.

Summer movie business often accelerates with the July 4th holiday--thus the current crowded field of movies. Over the weekend, Warner Bros. debuted its comic-strip based comedy "Dennis the Menace," which grossed a strong $9.5 million, to land in third place following "Jurassic Park" and "Sleepless in Seattle" and ahead of "Last Action Hero." Come Wednesday, Paramount Pictures opens yet another potential major contender, "The Firm," which stars Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.

For the moment, however, it is "Sleepless in Seattle" that has Hollywood's attention. In the film written by Nora Ephron, Tom Hanks plays a widower and father of a young boy in Seattle, whose need for a new wife receives unexpected national attention. Actress Meg Ryan plays a Baltimore-based journalist who is attracted to his story.

"You can't help but be surprised about how well it did," said Mike Medavoy, chairman of TriStar Pictures, the studio that distributes "Sleepless." "That number is the highest for any romantic comedy."

The contrast between Columbia's "Last Action Hero" and TriStar's "Sleepless in Seattle" is striking, especially since both studios are owned by the same parent company, Sony Pictures Entertainment. One key executive at a competing studio studio noted that, while "Last Action Hero" was surrounded by superlatives, the word on "Sleepless" was "very much low-key."

TriStar noted that "When Harry Met Sally," a film also written by Ephron, opened to an $8.8 million weekend. And it eventually surpassed such other films with romantic and comic themes such as "Ghost," which opened to $12.1 million, and "A League of Their Own," which debuted at $13.7 million.

"This is a film with absolutely no violence and no strong language," Medavoy said. "People say they are clamoring for this kind of movie, and this just shows that if you put it out there, they will come."

TriStar said the film is drawing an audience that is 60% female and mostly ages 25 and older.

Weekend estimates showed the Walt Disney/Touchstone Picture's "What's Love Got to Do With It" in fifth place, with a gross of $5.5 million. In an effort to build audience interest, the studio has slowly opened the film about the life of singer Tina Turner, first in limited run and now in 1,091 theaters. To date it has grossed about $13 million.

In sixth was TriStar's "Cliffhanger," which bills Sylvester Stallone in a mountain-climbing adventure. It took in $4.1 million and has accumulated $65.5 million since its Memorial Day weekend opening.

Final box-office figures will be released today. Other weekend estimates: "Made in America," $2 million; "Guilty as Sin," $1.9 million; "Menace II Society," $1.8 million; "Dave," $1.4 million; "Much Ado About Nothing," $860,000.

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