Between the picnics, fireworks and baseball games, about 23.5 million people went to the movies during the Independence Day weekend and gave the major Hollywood studios one of the biggest bonanzas on record--an estimated $120 million at the box office.
Three films alone--the adult thriller "The Firm," the horror story "Jurassic Park" and the romantic "Sleepless in Seattle"--accounted for $74.5 million of that total.
The variety of movies in the market included the 56-year-old animated classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the violent action drama "Menace II Society" and Kenneth Branagh's highly applauded adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
Tom Cruise proved he remains a star in the box-office firmament, as his Sydney Pollack-directed legal thriller, "The Firm," led all others, grossing $31.5 million for the weekend. Since its Wednesday opening, "The Firm," based on John Grisham's bestseller, has courted a whopping $44.5 million.
"For this kind of movie to pull this kind of number is unusual," said Barry London, Paramount Pictures' president of worldwide distribution. "Usually movies that get to these levels are films that appeal to younger males. This movie is appealing to an older demographic."
Beyond his own studio's fortunes, London said there was "a tremendous performance by a lot of films in the overall industry . . . it's pretty clear that the opening of 'The Firm' did not affect 'Jurassic Park' or 'Sleepless in Seattle.' Business just expanded."
That was, of course, the hope of film industry executives, who loaded the summer months with a number of potential hits, representing an investment of more than $2 billion in production and marketing costs. So far in 1993, there has been a slight increase in business.
"It wasn't as big as July Fourth in 1989, but the $120 million (produced during the just completed four-day weekend by films earning more than $500,000 each) was one of the better holidays," said John Krier of the Los Angeles-based box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. Comparisons, however, are difficult, he said.
In 1989, the $130-million-plus weekend box office was powered by big grosses for "Batman" and "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," and because of the day on which July 4 fell, covered a period lasting five days. Final figures for this year's Friday-Monday weekend will be released today.
Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," the dinosaur horror movie that has become a national phenomenon, fell to No. 2 in box-office standings, with $26 million for four days. But it remains far and away the year's box-office champ with a total of $212.7 million after four weekends in theaters. That puts "Jurassic Park" in the No. 11 spot on the list of all-time grossing movies. On Saturday, the Universal Pictures release crossed the $200-million milestone faster than any other movie.
TriStar Pictures' "Sleepless in Seattle," by Nora Ephron, wooed $17 million for the weekend for third place. The film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan has $44 million after 11 days of release.
Warner Bros.' comic-strip-based "Dennis the Menace," which features Walter Matthau and Joan Plowright, sold $10 million in tickets and has $26 million after two weekends.
Walt Disney Pictures' "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" drew $9 million in its first weekend in theaters since its 50th anniversary release in 1987.
Grouped in rankings 6 and 7 were "Last Action Hero," which drew $6.4 million for a total of $40.1 million since opening June 18, and "Son-in-Law," which bills Pauly Shore and opened Friday for $6.2 million in four days. The drop-off in grosses for "Last Action Hero," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, since its opening has been rapid. The weekend's total, down about 25% from the weekend before, was softened somewhat by heavy attendance Saturday night for previews of "In the Line of Fire," a drama starring Clint Eastwood that opens Friday.
Others in the weekend Top 10 were Touchstone Picture's "What's Love Got to Do With It," $4.8 million; TriStar's "Cliffhanger," $3.7 million ($71 million after six weeks) and New Line Cinema's "Menace II Society," $1.5 million. The Samuel Goldwyn Co.'s release of "Much Ado About Nothing" reached $1.3 million and has a total of $9.7 million to date.