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'Speed' Drives to a Fast Start : Movies: The thriller passes 'The Flintstones,' while 'City Slickers II' gallops to third at the box office.

June 13, 1994|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Twentieth Century Fox's "Speed" dispatched the competition over the weekend, swiping front-runner box-office status from "The Flintstones" with estimates of about $14 million grossed from more than 2,100 screens. The vehicular thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper is about a mad bomber who obviously doesn't think the L.A. traffic situation is tangled enough and booby-traps a city bus.

"City Slickers II," a sequel to the Billy Crystal yuppies-on-the-range hit comedy of two summers back, was anticipating a more-than-respectable $11.5 million in 2,243 theaters. That brought the Columbia release in behind both "Speed" and "The Flintstones," though industry insiders had earlier expected it to be the No. 1 film for the weekend.

"The Flintstones" continued unstoppable. Universal estimated that the film would likely gross in the neighborhood of $12 million on 2,555 screens, down about 33% from the previous weekend. The live-action version of the animated TV series has captured $81 million after only three weeks.

So far, "The Flintstones" has the family-film market to itself. Industry insiders are watching to see how well it holds up when other movies aimed at the same audience such as "The Lion King" and "Getting Even With Dad," with Macaulay Culkin, open over the next few weeks.

Momentum had been building on "Speed" from its early sneak previews, says Fox distribution head Tom Sherak. Better-than-usual reviews for an action film indicated the possibility of a major sleeper. But even Fox executives were not expecting "Speed" to burst out of the gate with such alacrity, according to Sherak. Originally set to debut in August, the studio had even been contemplating moving it back to October to avoid a summer movie pileup.

Instead it was rushed forward to early June, which could prove to be a wise move, giving the movie business a much-needed boost. Even with the smash debut of "Speed," box-office figures lagged 25% behind the comparable weekend in 1993 when a little movie called "Jurassic Park" opened.

Still, "Speed" had unexpected momentum of its own. After Friday's speedy $4.1-million opening day, Sherak was still predicting no more than $12 million for the weekend, based on the normal pattern of Friday being the biggest night for action films. "Speed," however, boasts a similar appeal to last year's "The Fugitive"--lots of action with low body count--and Saturday business jumped 44%.

"Maverick" ambled along with an estimated $6.8 million, bringing its total to more than $66 million after a month in release. Disney's "Renaissance Man" did not open strongly a weekend earlier but fell only 25% in its second weekend to about $4.2 million.

Otherwise, "Speed" crippled most of the action competition, including "Beverly Hills Cop III," which slipped to about $3.5 million (from $6.6 million a weekend earlier). "The Cowboy Way" also dropped precipitously to $2.8 million (from $5 million) as did "The Crow" to $2.3 million (from $4 million).

If "Speed" continues to race, it could fuel the summer's moviegoing attendance figures. The big pop quiz this year is that, barring another unforeseen $300-million grossing monster on the order of "Jurassic Park," what do you do for an encore to the biggest summer in box-office history?

The answer, say studio distribution executives, is to succeed through sheer volume. To achieve that, several $100-million-plus blockbusters will need to emerge from among a number of potential candidates, including several family films such as Disney's animated "The Lion King," which debuts Wednesday, as well as a number of big-budget star vehicles including Jack Nicholson's "Wolf," opening Friday.

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