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Will This Monster Movie Devour the World? : Movies: 'Jurassic Park' aims to become the biggest-grossing motion picture of all time worldwide. It opens in major overseas markets this weekend.

July 16, 1993|CLAUDIA ELLER | TIMES MOVIE EDITOR

Dino-Mania is sweeping the globe.

Even before its first major overseas openings this weekend in Britain and Japan, Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" has already penetrated the culture and social fabric of those countries.

In Britain--where it opens today following Thursday's Royal Premiere--a recent cartoon in the London Sunday Times shows a caricature of Prime Minister John Major's head on the body of a dinosaur with the caption reading: "Majorassic Park." Another cartoon, in the Daily Mail, features the face of Margaret Thatcher on a dinosaur. Two rival newspapers in London are running "Bingo Sauras" contests.

In Tokyo, a "Dino Park" is being set up with dozens of life-size dinosaur replicas, and numerous international licensees are touting the "Jurassic Park" logo on everything from trading cards, bed linen and pajamas to men's boxer shorts and computer knitted socks. Because of the pre-release craze in Japan, "Jurassic" will begin its first screenings at 7 a.m. Saturday, compared to the usual 10 a.m. showings, thus allowing for six shows a day rather than the typical four or five.

Since its June 11 release in the United States and Canada, the dinosaur adventure epic has sold more than $240-million worth of tickets and is widely believed to be on its way to be the biggest-grossing movie of all time on a worldwide basis.

"Clearly, the level of success in the United States has generated a kind of 'Jurassic' fever on a global basis," says Michael Williams-Jones, head of London-based United International Pictures, the foreign theatrical and pay TV distribution arm of Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures and MGM/UA. Smith contends that the phenomenon is a combination of "Jurassic" being "total entertainment that has touched every nerve" and being based on scientific fact.

"The 'Jurassic Park' concept has generated debates about genetic engineering and moral issues. All of these issues have platformed the movie to be a very, very unique event in the long history of our business," said Williams-Jones, noting that in his 25 years in the business--"and I was there for 'E.T.' and 'Jaws' "--he's never experienced anything like this. "This is unique."

Of the 275 million people living in North America, approximately 50 million have already seen "Jurassic Park." There's no way to predict how many of the rest of the world's 5 billion inhabitants will go to see the movie, but by the time the movie has had its run in theaters and plays through its other markets--pay TV, home video and free TV--it is estimated that "Jurassic Park" will have been seen by more than 2 billion people worldwide.

"I've always believed that whatever the film would do domestically, it would do at least 10% better foreign," said Tom Pollock, chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group/Universal Pictures. The goal, says Pollock, is to beat worldwide record-holder "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," the 1982 Spielberg film that garnered more than $640 million globally in its initial release. "Jurassic Park" is not expected to beat out "E.T.'s" original domestic gross of $357 million ($399 million after reissues), but it has a good shot at surpassing "E.T.'s" initial foreign take of $286 million.

The price audiences will pay to see the movie varies from country to country. In Japan, an adult ticket costs anywhere from $20 to $25 depending on the time of day. Comparatively, in China, the price of admission is 10 or 15 cents and in Latin America around 40 to 50 cents. In North America, the average ticket price is $5.

During its theatrical life overseas--which began in mid-June with initial openings in five Latin American countries and will end with its debut in Greece in late October--"Jurassic" will have been released in 3,400 prints, the widest release ever for a motion picture internationally, according to Williams-Jones. Last year's Arnold Schwarzenegger sequel "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" held the previous record. A typical wide foreign release for a major motion picture is around 2,500, and that's considered "a very big release," said Williams-Jones.

Debuting on June 25 in Brazil, the film has grossed $6.1 million in 20 days--the biggest opening in the country's history--and has since opened in Argentina ($2 million, two weeks), Colombia ($1.1 million, 13 days), Chile ($264,000, one week) and Uruguay ($152,000, 13 days).

"Each one of those is an all-time world record for the opening of a movie," said Williams-Jones, adding that a number of in-house theater records were also set.

Today, the movie enters its second phase of overseas release in Britain and Mexico, followed by Saturday's highly anticipated debut in Japan with 260 prints--the biggest motion picture release in Japanese history, according to Williams-Jones.

The UIP chief says the typical wide release in Japan for a major American motion picture is between 125-140 prints. Japan only has 1,800 theaters, of which approximately half show English-language movies, compared to 23,000 screens in the United States.

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