The movie industry on Sunday appeared headed for a record $105-million nonholiday weekend box-office gross, led by three powerhouse movies: "True Lies" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Forrest Gump" with Tom Hanks and Walt Disney Pictures' animated film, "The Lion King."
If the weekend estimates hold up when final figures are released today, the total will break the record established only a year ago on the weekend of July 9-11, when four hit movies dominated the market, accounting for about 60% of ticket sales. Those films were "Jurassic Park," "The Firm," "In the Line of Fire" and "Sleepless in Seattle."
For the past weekend, only three films were taking in nearly 70% of all the dollars plunked down for admission.
On Sunday, with theaters still open, studio executives who track box-office trends offered estimates that the weekend take would range from $102 million to $110 million. But all agreed that no matter how it was calculated, a record would be achieved. And the increase would outpace the rate of ticket inflation, they said.
Exhibitor Relations Co., which compiles grosses on films making more than $500,000 a week, calculated last summer's record weekend at $100 million. John Krier, president of the firm, said this weekend would easily top that.
"Seldom do you see such powerhouses in the market," said Krier. "And seldom do you see films like 'Speed' and 'Forrest Gump' show such staying power in the face of severe competition."
The 20th Century Fox release of "True Lies," a $100-million production that reunited Schwarzenegger with the director of his successful "Terminator" movies, James Cameron, drew an estimated $26.2 million for the Friday-through-Sunday period. Preview showings around the nation on Thursday generated $1.6 million, giving the action film a total of $27.8 million to date.
After last summer's less-than-dazzling debut of Schwarzenegger's "Last Acton Hero," which nevertheless went on to a successful box-office run, there had been a lot of industry speculation about the potential for "True Lies." It is a costly film and its opening date was postponed from the July 4th weekend to July 15, which sometimes can signal a production in trouble.
"There's no business like show business," said an elated Tom Sherak, Fox's executive vice president, quoting the Irving Berlin song about the sudden shifts of fortune that entertainers experience. After a winter and spring drought, Fox is enjoying a strong summer with "True Lies" and the earlier release of "Speed," which came in fifth for the weekend with $5 million in ticket sales and $94 million after six weeks of release.
In second place for the weekend was Paramount Pictures' "Forrest Gump," a whimsical film with Hanks in the title role as an unlikely hero. The film grossed about $24 million in its second weekend of release--a number that is virtually the same as the first weekend's gross, and a rarity because typically movie grosses decline after the first weekend.
The film's holding power confirms the "incredible" positive word of mouth that Barry London, Paramount's president of worldwide distribution, said it is receiving from audiences.
Disney's "The Lion King" has slipped to third place in the weekend standing, but remains the king of the summer. The weekend added $17 million and brings its total to $174.7 million after only six weeks of wide release.
Disney's "Angels in the Outfield" baseball comedy, appealing to families, opened in fourth place and batted a strong $9.2 million. That was followed by "Speed" in fifth place. The Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte whodunit picture "I Love Trouble" came in sixth with $3.5 million; "Blown Away" was seventh with $3 million; "The Shadow" was eighth with $2.5 million.
In ninth and tenth, respectively, were "Wolf" at $2.3 million and $59.2 million to date, and "The Flintstones," at $1.3 million, and $119.4 to date.
Despite its popularity, "True Lies" has generated some criticism from Muslim, Arab-American and women's groups, who have accused it of reinforcing racial and anti-female stereotypes.
There were informational protests in a numbers of cities last week, including the Westwood area of Los Angeles.
"Considering that what we did was a drop in the bucket compared to the media blitz that accompanied the film, we're pleased (with the attention the protests received)," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.