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'Batman' Takes a Bite Out of 'Jurassic' Record : Movies: Third Bat film soars to an estimated opening weekend gross of $53 million. 'Pocahontas' makes a staggering $2.7 million in just six--albeit large--theaters.

June 19, 1995|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What killed the dinosaurs? Apparently, a bat.

Even with the proviso that Father's Day celebrations and good weather around the country might deflate Sunday box-office estimates, "Batman Forever" will likely deliver a record opening weekend gross somewhere between $53 million and $54 million, surpassing the $50.2-million debut of "Jurassic Park" in 1993. The film certainly outdistanced the two previous Bat-films--the first opened to $42.7 million in 1989, the second to a then-record $47.7 million in 1992.

If the third "Batman" seemed to be playing in every single movie house in the United States, it was not far from the truth. Warners reports that the film is in 2,842 locations (giving it an $18,875 per-screen average), but industry sources estimate that the film is actually playing on close to 4,000 screens total. Even so, that would still bring its per-screen average to well over $13,000 a house. Considering some of those theaters are tiny--like at L.A.'s Beverly Center Cineplex--you can already hear the clickety-clack of computer keyboards gearing up for "Batman" No. 4.

The rest of those theaters will probably be taken up with prints of "Pocahontas" next weekend, which would seem justified considering the staggering $2.7 million the animated film grossed in just six theaters. When was the last time you recall a movie grossing $450,000 a screen? Sure, ticket prices were inflated--between $10 and $25 a head for the film and stage show. And, except for El Capitan in Hollywood, the houses accommodate 3,000 or 4,000 patrons. Still, the grosses were comparable to a Broadway musical. Disney's marketing and distribution president Dick Cook is gearing toward 2,500 locations (and many more prints) on Friday. And even if "Pocahontas" doesn't do the $40.9 million "Lion King" grossed when it opened last year, "we'll do awfully good," Cook confidently predicts.

The impact of "Batman" on other films in the marketplace was not totally disastrous, but, in some cases, close. Figuring that the top 13 films took in an estimated $97 million (43% higher than last year), "Batman" sold about three of every five tickets this weekend. If Sunday business holds up, the overall total for all films could top $100 million. That would be a three-day box-office record, according to John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co.

"Congo" took the biggest hit, dropping from a $24.6 million opening to a second-place estimate of $10.2 million on 2,676 theaters. Nonetheless, Paramount has netted $44 million in just 10 days with a movie most industry insiders were saying had "flop" written all over it. "Casper" also got spooked by the swooping bat, drooping to $7 million on 2,760 screens. But it has a nice cushion of $66.7 million. There's more bad news for "Casper" with "Pocahontas" next weekend.

Surviving nicely was "Bridges of Madison County" with probably $6.7 million on 1,968 screens and a warm three-week total of $36.3 million. Both "Braveheart" and "Die Hard With a Vengeance" kept their heads above water, the former with $4.1 million, the latter with $3.8 million. Their respective grand totals are $41 million and $78.3 million.

"Crimson Tide" declined further to $3.4 million, but has already grossed $75 million. Rounding out the top 10 are "Forget Paris" with $1.7 million and $27.5 million, and "While You Were Sleeping" which grossed $1.6 million and $68.7 million to date. On the alternative circuit, Miramax reports that its two art house films, "Smoke" and "The Postman (Il Postino)," both grossed in excess of $10,000 a screen over the weekend. "Smoke," from director Wayne Wang, grossed $224,000 on 21 screens. "Postman" rang up $122,000 on 10 screens.

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