It was the kind of holiday at the box office that would inspire the Variety-ese hyperbole "boffo."
The Martin Luther King Jr. observance created the kind of moviegoing business more akin to a Memorial Day weekend than a mid-January holiday, with ticket sales estimated to be in the neighborhood of $100 million--a clear record. Three films handily grossed more than $10 million each--the romantic epic "Legends of the Fall," starring Brad Pitt; John Singleton's drama "Higher Learning" and "Demon Knight," a feature version of "Tales From the Crypt."
And there was still some scratch left over for tickets to the adult drama "Nobody's Fool," starring Paul Newman, but not much for the family film "Far From Home."
"Legends" had raised industry eyebrows when the hit-starved TriStar Pictures made a last-minute decision to sneak it into the busy Christmas season. Reviews were mixed--usually a bad sign--but audiences appeared starved for some wide-screen sweep and the movie quickly developed momentum. The first weekend of wide release was a January record-breaker, an estimated $14.1 million on 2,005 screens. According to Columbia/TriStar distribution head Jeff Blake, the movie edged past TriStar's "Philadelphia," which had a previous January weekend best of $13.8 million in 1994.
TriStar's equally smash-sparse sister, Columbia Pictures, made a no less impressive showing with Singleton's third screen effort, "Higher Learning." Critics may have been unkind, but Singleton obviously has a strong urban and college audience following. The film lived up to its record midweek opening, taking in $13.3 million over the past four days on 1,409 screens, with an average of $9,440 per screen. The six-day total is $17 million, Singleton's best debut to date.
"Demon Knight" didn't need reviews. It had a built-in audience of "Crypt" comic-book readers and TV viewers, who forked out $11 million for the opening weekend, almost as much as it cost to produce (reportedly $12.5 million).
The three brazen upstart films tossed Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels into fourth place. But after a month of Sundays, "Dumb and Dumber" hasn't seen a blue Monday yet. This past weekend, moviegoers coughed up another $9.5 million for some sophomoric yuks, giving "Dumb" a total of $91 million so far.
Another surprise was the low-profile "Nobody's Fool," which needed good year-end reviews--and got them, especially for Newman. The working-class drama lived up to its title, battling the high-concept competition to pull down $7 million in its first wide break on only 792 screens, averaging close to $9,000 a screen.
Paramount Pictures was also happy to have the fifth motion picture in history to pass $300 million, namely "Forrest Gump."
After ushering Tim Allen successfully to the big screen, Disney is building up another small screen comic, Sinbad. The results on "Houseguest" are not in the league of "The Santa Clause," but the comedy held its own in its second weekend against competition from "Higher Learning" and "Dumb and Dumber" for the young, urban dollar. The estimate for the four days was $6.5 million, which would give the picture $13 million in less than two weeks.
"Disclosure," in which Michael Douglas plays a victim of sexual harassment, was still pulling audiences in with $6.1 million, increasing its total to about $70 million.
The more demure "Little Women" has amassed $33.6 million since Christmas Day, adding another $4.9 million over this past weekend, while "Jungle Book" fell slightly to about $4 million and $32.5 million to date.
In 10th place, Fox's debut "Far From Home" did a far from satisfactory $4 million in its first four days, just edging out "Nell," the Jodie Foster drama, which fell to $3.75 million over the weekend. "Nell," which has grossed about $24 million so far, could get a second wind if Oscar nominations materialize next month.
Another Sony Pictures' film that's not falling on deaf ears is "Immortal Beloved," which expanded to 100 screens over the weekend and took in $1.1 million, bringing its limited-release total up to $3.3 million. Sony, which took a $3.2-billion write-off in late 1994, has been in need of morale boosting and over the weekend boasted about capturing one in every three moviegoing dollars.