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'Wolf,' 'Lion King' Grab the Movie-Goers : What's Hot . . . Maybe Hotter? . . . and Maybe Not : 'Flintstones' Still Strong in Summer Box-Office Competition; 'Getting Even With Dad' Trails

June 20, 1994|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lions and tigers and. . . . Make that lions and wolves and a bear of an opening--or, barely an opening--for Macaulay Culkin.

Brows were unfurrowed, fists unclenched at Sony Pictures as Columbia's big summer movie gamble, the $70-million "Wolf," got off to a strong start, raking in an estimated $18.2 million on 2,117 screens, the second-best opening of the year behind "The Flintstones" and the studio's third biggest debut ever behind "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "Ghostbusters II."

The next best showing at the weekend box office came from the runaway hit "Speed," which grossed $12.8 million in its second weekend, declining a scant 12% (a 25% drop is average).

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But for a real eye-popper try the $1.5-million to $1.6-million estimate Disney is shouting from the top of the mountain for its new animated feature "The Lion King" in only two theaters, one on each coast.

That breaks down to an unprecedented per-screen average of somewhere between $750,000 and $800,000 ("Wolf" grossed about $8,600 a screen). Add the $600,000 or so garnered on Wednesday and Thursday and the five-day total passes the $2-million mark. Depending on precisely how well it did on Sunday--final weekend figures will be released today--"Lion King" had a shot at placing in the top 10, running neck and neck for ninth place with "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "Beverly Hills Cop III," each of which is playing on more than 1,000 screens.

The third new release of the weekend, MGM's "Getting Even With Dad" starring Culkin and Ted Danson, will be lucky to earn back its production costs based on a $5.4-million weekend box-office projection from almost 2,000 screens, a fifth-place finish.

According to studio spokeswoman Terry Curtin, the mediocre showing was not unexpected and tepid reviews didn't help much either. She was also careful to distance the film from MGM/UA's new boss, Frank Mancuso, who arrived after it had already begun.

The weekend still lagged 20% behind last year when "Jurassic Park" walked the Earth and grossed $38 million. But, observed Columbia distribution head Jeff Blake, the distractions this past weekend were plenty: the NBA finals, a record heat wave in the East and the O. J. Simpson nationally televised car chase on Friday night, perhaps the biggest live media event in recent memory.

Interest in the Jack Nicholson/Michelle Pfeiffer "Wolf" was strong and had been building steadily with the support of opening week advertising, buoyed by some good to excellent notices. And while industry insiders say Columbia had been hoping for a bit more, the grosses are potent for a non-sequel title.

Word of mouth will determine "Wolf's" longevity. "Bram Stoker's Dracula" opened in the $30-million range and then proceeded to lose momentum in subsequent weeks. Still, there will be some joy in Mudville if "Wolf" can approximate the $200 million worldwide that "Dracula" bit off ($80 million in the U.S. alone).

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Disney could not have been hoping for more on "Lion King," which is playing exclusively at L.A.'s El Capitan theater and New York's Radio City Music Hall. Many shows sold out, including all day Saturday at Radio City. The 1,000-seat El Capitan had a record Saturday with more than $56,000.

The $1.6-million figure is only misleading in that Radio City has more than 5,000 seats and both theaters are charging premium prices as high as $25 (stage shows are included). "Lion King's" roaring debut is the best advertising money can't buy for its national release on Friday.

The $200-million-plus gross of Disney's last animated blockbuster, "Aladdin," will be hard to beat, but industry estimates are that "Lion" will do at least as well as "Beauty and the Beast" (in the $150 million area). Significantly for Disney, the bucks will arrive faster, since school's out for summer, and studios keep--no pun intended--the lion's share of grosses in the first few weeks of a film's release.

With the pressure of new summer openings, "The Flintstones" sagged to $8 million for the weekend, down from $12.7 a weekend earlier. With a bedrock $95 million in the till already, it will become 1994's first $100-million grossing release in the next week. It could be joined by "Speed," which has clocked $35 million in only 10 days.

"City Slickers II," in its second weekend of release, drooped to about $7.2 million from $11.2 million the weekend before, and was the fourth-place finisher in ticket sales.

"Maverick," in sixth place, may not be a blockbuster, but it's definitely a solid hit, the past weekend accounting for $4.6 million and almost $74 million so far. But the Western genre may not be big enough for two superstars, and Mel Gibson may have to cede to Kevin Costner who rides thisa way in "Wyatt Earp" this coming weekend.

Other top 10 releases included "Renaissance Man," seventh with $2.8 million, and "The Cowboy Way," eighth, $1.7 million.

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