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'SANTA': Allen's Holiday Comedy Still Flying High : Thanksgiving Is No Turkey for Disney's 'Santa' : Box office: The family hit is leading the pack with an estimated $27.5 million over the near-record holiday, followed by 'Star Trek' and 'Interview.' Schwarzenegger's 'Junior' places fourth.

November 28, 1994|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Comedian Tim Allen gobbled up a new generation of "Star Trek" as well as the likes of Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger over the weekend. The TV star's Yuletide-cheery "The Santa Clause" led the pack over a near-record Thanksgiving weekend with an estimated $27.5 million for the five-day holiday, followed by "Star Trek: Generations" (a projected $20.6 million), "Interview With the Vampire" ($17 million) and Schwarzenegger's "Junior" ($14 million).

The urban shamus film "A Low Down Dirty Shame" also got off to a good start with $11.4 million in five days, but Macaulay Culkin wasn't enough of a lure for audiences to sample the largely animated "The Pagemaster," which took in only $5.5 million.

The Thanksgiving record of about $140 million, set in 1992, is still safe, according to John Krier of Exhibitor Relations. But with nearly $135 million estimated for the five days ending Sunday, this year's holiday was no turkey and will finish well ahead of last year's rather scrappy $107 million. More important for the movie industry, the strength of current business virtually guarantees that 1994 will be the best year yet.

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"The Santa Clause," Allen's runaway hit for Disney, is the clear family favorite with $27.5 million on 2,269 screens--more than $12,000 a theater. Its three-week take of $72 million to $73 million surpasses the film's budget and marketing costs combined, meaning there'll be no coal in Disney executives' year-end bonus envelopes.

Studio distribution chief Richard Cook said the movie could overtake its family division's current leader, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," which did more than $130 million. He also boasted that the studio's three current releases accounted for 40% of the business of the top 10 films: "A Low Down Dirty Shame" starring another TV personality, Keenen Ivory Wayans, ranked fifth in its debut with $11.4 million on 1,379 screens; and right behind, "The Lion King" continued to bellow with $8.1 million on 1,516 screens and $282 million so far. (It's now only $12-million shy of "Forrest Gump," the biggest grosser of 1994, with $294 million. "Forrest" bench-pressed almost $2 million over Thanksgiving.)

"Star Trek: Generations" slipped into second gear but with plenty of fuel to spare. The holiday brought an additional $20.6 million on 2,681 screens. In 10 days, "Trek" has tallied $50.5 million, reviving the hearty franchise. At this rate, the seventh "Trek" has a shot at $100 million, which would make it only the second of the series to reach that plateau. ("Trek IV" took in almost $110 million.)

"Interview," while impressive, is somewhat hampered by its high-gore content; small-town America isn't responding. But big cities, with larger theaters and better overall attendance, are carrying the film to a reported $17 million in its third weekend. Next week begins the normal seasonal slump, and though "Interview" has already copped about $83 million, the general consensus is that it won't reach the $150 million-or-so level of Cruise's last two movies, "The Firm" and "A Few Good Men."

The pregnant-with-possibility comedy "Junior" had been tagged as one of the season's sure-fire hits by industry insiders, thanks to the re-teaming of "Twins" co-stars Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. But audiences, particularly males, would rather see Schwarzenegger terminate than germinate. "There was some resistance, but that's why we did sneak previews last weekend," says Tom Pollock, chairman of Universal Pictures.

And with the help of a firestorm of advertising, initial indifference was overcome. In its first five days, "Junior" appeared moderately fecund with $14 million on 1,749 screens. And Pollock is now talking best-case scenario, that "Junior" follows in the footsteps of other Schwarzenegger comedies, such as "Kindergarten Cop" and "Twins," both of which started slow and developed into substantial grossers.

MGM/UA got a holiday boost from the seventh-ranked "Stargate," which deposited another $6.4 million toward its $60 million to date.

But 20th Century Fox is crying bah-humbug--and with good reason: Disney scrooged away most of the family audience with "Santa" and "Lion," leaving "Pagemaster" with a meager $5.5-million debut on 1,803 screens and "Miracle on 34th Street" without hope, with $5.2 million on 1,191 screens despite its money-back guarantee to moviegoers.

In between the two Fox films, in ninth place, "The Professional" did as much business over the past five days as it did in its first three, $5.3 million.

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