The first major movie arrivals of the holiday season--"Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" starring Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro and "The War" starring Elijah Wood and Kevin Costner--were ambushed over the weekend by the upstart "Stargate." The mystical sci-fi adventure starring Kurt Russell and James Spader, which had come out of nowhere to open as the biggest film ever for a September or October release ($16.7 million) the previous weekend, held with a strong $12.5 million in its second weekend on 2,033 screens.
Even MGM/UA, which released "Stargate," was anticipating more than a 25% drop, said Larry Gleason, the studio's distribution head, especially since TriStar Pictures had manned the big media guns to pump life into "Frankenstein." But bad reviews sabotaged any electricity generated by the "Frankenstein" trailers and TV spots. Columbia/TriStar was estimating $12 million for the opening weekend in 2,177 theaters. However, its competitors were predicting that "Frankenstein" would wind up grossing closer to $11 million by the close of Sunday's business.
Either way that's not so good for the $40-million-plus epic. Monster movies, which this film basically is, require a fast break to score. By comparison, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" copped $30.5 million its opening weekend in mid-November, 1992, almost 40% of its final gross of $82.4 million.
And if "Frankenstein" was going to attract big business, this weekend looked like its best shot. On Friday, "Interview With the Vampire," with Tom Cruise at the helm, will most likely drain the blood out of even its most sanguine competitors, based on early word of mouth and studio tracking studies of viewer interest. Industry insiders predict an opening of at least $20 million.
In a distant third place over the weekend was "The War" with about $5.2 million on 1,155 screens--also the victim of poor critical response. That's only a hair ahead of the bellicose "Pulp Fiction," which was holding well with $5 million in its fourth weekend. Fortunately, there's no "three strikes" law for movie stars, because "The War" looks to be the the third Costner film in a row that has performed below expectations (the other two being "A Perfect World" and "Wyatt Earp"). Though he is not technically the star of the film (Wood is), he is a major character and featured prominently in the selling campaign.
The only other new nationwide release, the kiddie action film "Double Dragon," did miserably with $1.3 million on 1,087 screens.
Nonetheless, according to John Krier of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box-office sales, business appeared up slightly from the same weekend last year. And MGM/UA's Gleason was predicting Sunday that "Stargate" will settle in nicely through the holidays, having garnered almost $35 million in its first 10 days. He said the film will likely surpass his initial $60-million overall estimate.
Meanwhile, some other fall releases continued to attract audiences, including the season leader to date, "The Specialist," with $3.1 million, "Love Affair" with $2.4 million and "The River Wild" with $2.1 million. "Little Giants" and "Forrest Gump" took in $2 million apiece. And 10th place in weekend ticket sales went to the fast-fading "The Road to Wellville" with $1.5 million.
Final weekend figures will be released today.