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Fall Films Slump Despite 'Pulp' : Box Office: The gritty film holds strong with $8.1 million in its second weekend, while 'Love Affair' limps along.

October 24, 1994|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The honeymoon has ended abruptly for "Love Affair," the amorous pairing of Warren Beatty and off-screen wife Annette Bening. Despite a potent marketing campaign and more than one Saturday night sneak preview, audience ardor was missing from the film's opening weekend. Its estimated ticket sales were a limp $5.7 million on 1,585 screens.

That made for a third-place finish. But it was another lackluster fall weekend at the box office despite a wide variety of films playing. "I don't understand it," said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations, a company that tracks movie attendance. "There's a good selection of movies out there, but people just aren't going."

Business for the season is down almost 10% from last year. The only muscle at the box office was "Pulp Fiction," which held strong with an estimated $8.1 million in its second weekend, obviously getting good word of mouth to back up some powerhouse reviews. Exit surveys continue "through the roof," according to David Dinerstein, senior vice president of marketing.

That makes "Pulp" the undisputed No. 1 film. With more than $21 million in 10 days, it joins a select group of fall films that can be classified as even marginal hits. They include "The Specialist," starring Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone, in second place, which dropped down to $6.1 million in its third weekend, but has about $35 million so far. Locked in a battle for fifth place, Meryl Streep's "The River Wild" took in another $4.2 million over the past weekend and has taken in about $32 million. However, both films were costly. So they're not totally out of the woods yet.

"Pulp" on the other hand came in at less than $10 million. (Other strong fall performers have been "TimeCop" which has topped $40 million, making it Jean Claude Van Damme's biggest grosser to date, and the late summer release "Natural Born Killers," which has grossed about $47 million so far).

Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" got a great send-off from reviewers and in New York and Los Angeles engagements managed more than $72,000 in its first weekend. Of course, those two burgs have traditionally been Allen strongholds. The real test will come as the period comedy expands to more than 200 theaters by Nov. 4. The Sundance Festival favorite, "Clerks," finally came to town, again New York and Los Angeles. The black-and-white convenience store comedy, which originally cost $27,000, did a little better than that over the weekend and took in $35,000 in its first five days of release.

The failure of "Love Affair" along with the disappointing debut of "Puppet Masters," which managed only $4.1 million, and the disastrous first weekend of the period mystery/comedy "Radioland Murders," which barely cracked $800,000 on 844 screens, are but three more titles on the ever-expanding fall casualty list: "Wes Craven's New Nightmare," despite terrific reviews, followed the traditional pattern of horror films by losing almost half its opening weekend audience with $3.6 million on 1,870 screens and $11.6 million to date. The other disappointing romantic comedy in theaters is "Only You" starring Robert Downey Jr., which dipped to about $2.75 million with less than $15 million to date.

Other notable box-office disappointments for the season have been "Quiz Show," "Ed Wood," "Terminal Velocity" and "Exit to Eden."

The jury's still out on "Little Giants." Despite a so-so opening, second weekend business showed little erosion--there being little for kids in the fall mix. The $4.2-million weekend total brings "Giants" to almost $10 million in 10 days. Ditto "The Shawshank Redemption," which didn't exactly set theater ticket booths on fire when it jumped to more than 900 screens last weekend. It declined only marginally to $2.15 million and has also grossed about $10 million to date.

But no film has demonstrated the sustaining power of "Forrest Gump," which is still in the top 10 after 16 weeks in release, adding another $2.7 million over the weekend. The $300-million mark is still comfortably in its sights. Popular is as popular does.

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