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THE YEAR IN MOVIES : '93 a Record-Smasher at the Box Office : 'Mrs. Doubtfire,' 'Pelican Brief' propel final week and 'Jurassic Park' chews up the competition as industry receipts hit $5.2 billion.

January 03, 1994|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Led by "Mrs. Doubtfire" with Robin Williams and Sally Field, and "The Pelican Brief" with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, the motion picture business ended 1993 with a rousing week at the ticket windows--a week that pushed the year's box-office gross to a record high.

Depending on which box-office sources one consults, the box-office "year" ended a week ago, ended Friday, or will end in a few days. But on one point all agree: It was a record year.

Veteran analyst A. D. Murphy of the Hollywood Reporter said the 1993 total gross hit $5.2 billion, beating the former record of $5.03 billion set in 1989. The results reversed the downward trend of 1990, 1991 and 1992.

The final week of 1993 and the New Year's Day weekend ending Sunday were among the best of the year, with some analysts saying the total gross of $165 million to $170 million will be among the best ever for a seven-day period. The 20th Century Fox release of "Mrs. Doubtfire," which has been in release since late November, scored a huge $17 million for the weekend. Warner Bros.' "The Pelican Brief" earned $12.5 million.

The year also will be remembered as the year of "Jurassic Park," Steven Spielberg's dazzling tale of a dinosaur theme park that goes out of control.

In 1993, seven movies ("Jurassic Park," "In the Line of Fire," "The Fugitive," "The Firm," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Indecent Proposal") surpassed the magical $100-million mark at the box office, compared with eight during 1992.

But in 1992 the biggest film was "Batman Returns" with $163 million. In 1993, "Jurassic Park" alone grossed twice that amount. With its $339-million gross to date in the United States and Canada, the Spielberg film is the equivalent of at least two blockbusters. ("Jurassic Park" still has not surpassed Spielberg's reigning box-office champ in the United States and Canada, "E.T.," with an estimated $359-million gross in its initial release. But, worldwide, "Jurassic" is the king, with a gross of $531.4 million, for a total to date of $870.4 million.)

"Jurassic Park" was just the kind of movie that theater owners dream about. It drew huge crowds and played for months. The longer a movie plays, the bigger the share of the gross that goes to the theaters, the less to the studios.

Late last week, veteran Southern California movie exhibitor James Edwards Sr. of the Orange County-based Edwards Cinemas chain was reflecting on 1993, and he recalled a Hollywood truism: "There's nothing wrong with the movie business that a good movie won't cure."

At least a dozen popular movies fit that category during the year, Edwards recalled. "In my 60 years in the business, I've never seen a string of strong box-office movies as we had last summer."

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In addition to the blockbusters, there was also robust business in 1993 for a few specialized titles, said Gary Meyer, president of the Landmark Theater chain that is owned by the Samuel Goldwyn Co. Among the better performing titles were Goldwyn's release of Kenneth Branagh's widely hailed adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing," which grossed $23 million, and "The Wedding Banquet" with a gross of $6 million. Miramax Films did well with "Like Water for Chocolate," with a gross approaching $20 million, and "The Piano," which has accumulated $13 million to date. Sony Pictures Classics scored with about a $12-million gross on "Howards End," the 1992 Oscar-nominated movie that played strongly in the first quarter of 1993.

If 1993 produced some major original hit movies, it was also a year that was unkind to sequels--with the exception of the current family film "Beethoven's 2nd" from Universal.

That was a major difference from 1992. At the end that year, the top three grossing movies were sequels--"Batman Returns," "Home Alone 2" and "Lethal Weapon 3." At the end of 1993, there is nary a sequel in the top 10.

Most '93 sequels--including the much-anticipated Disney/Touchstone "Sister Act 2" and Paramount Pictures' "Wayne's World 2" and "Addams Family Values"-- didn't live up to expectations. Only a year ago, "Sister Act" and "Wayne's World" were on the list of the top 10 grossing films of 1992; "Addams Family" was a $113-million grossing picture from 1991.

"Sister Act 2," despite a big New Year's weekend, has grossed only $40 million to date; "Wayne's World 2," $39 million; and "Addams Family Values," $45 million. Successful sequels generally perform about two-thirds as well as the original; none of these has come close.

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