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'Kombat' Captures Audience : Box office: Film based on a martial arts video game earns $23 million on its first weekend in release.

August 21, 1995|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Having virtually exhausted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, New Line Cinema is banking for a new annuity with "Mortal Kombat." Based on the best-selling video game, the martial arts/special effects film arrived like a last blast of summer heat to score an estimated $23 million in 2,421 theaters over its first weekend.

Reviewers were not given an advance peek at "Kombat." No matter, since its post-literate, young-male core audience isn't likely to rely on critical approval in making its film-going decisions. Granted, the $30 million-plus-film dropped sharply from opening day (which included Thursday night advance-preview receipts) to Saturday, but that was not enough to prevent it from registering the fifth-highest weekend gross of the year, in such good company as "Batman Forever" and "Pocahontas."

According to producer Larry Kasanoff, the audience was broader than just under-25 males. And word-of-mouth in coming weeks should be helped along by the attention (and about $50 million in advertising) surrounding a direct-to-video "making of" special, a live martial arts show at Radio City Music Hall, a CD-ROM title and, most important, the "Mortal Kombat 3" video game.

Even though schools in several states are already in session, the top three movies are all doing best with young audiences--as are such long-playing popular hits as "Clueless" (at just less than $50 million)--and the late summer box-office erosion has been stemmed somewhat. John Krier of Exhibitor Relations says that business for the weekend was up from the same weekend last year, reversing the precipitous slide of recent weeks.

The proliferation of youth-appeal movies unfortunately put the squeeze on some lower-profile titles such as "The Babysitter's Club," which opened no higher than ninth place with $3.6 million on 1,709 screens. (On the other hand, it only cost about $7 million to make). Also, "A Kid in King Arthur's Court" fell to 10th place with $2.4 million on 1,862 screens for only $9.4 million in two weeks.

A hit single and soundtrack had helped propel "Dangerous Minds" to the top spot in its debut and sustained it in second place this weekend with $10 million on 1,554 screens despite a 34% drop. Total so far is $33 million.

Right behind it, holding even stronger is "A Walk in the Clouds" with only a 20% drop. Mixing director Alfonso Arau's unabashed romanticism from "Like Water for Chocolate" with the star drawing power of Keanu Reeves, second-weekend grosses are estimated at $7.65 million on 1,750 screens for a 10-day total of $22 million, or just about what the movie cost to make.

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For the older crowd, "Something to Talk About" is still generating word-of-mouth. The Julia Roberts marital romance is in fourth place with $5.7 million on 1,787 screens and $34 million so far, meaning it will comfortably outgross Roberts' misstep "I Love Trouble."

Universal's top 10 trio, "Waterworld," "Babe" and "Apollo 13," were bunched in fifth, sixth and seventh places, respectively. "Waterworld" took another sharp drop to $5.3 million (compared to $8.6 million last weekend) on 2,414 screens and has now grossed about $71 million. That puts it right on track with several estimates that the monumentally expensive adventure would hit dry land somewhere just short of $100 million.

The winning pig movie "Babe" was the strongest holdover with less than a 20% drop to $5.1 million on 1,791 screens and has just rounded $30 million. And the summer's second-highest grosser, "Apollo 13," soared past $150 million ($153.7 million to date) over the weekend with a $3.8 million showing on 1,818 screens.

Eighth place went to Sandra Bullock's "The Net," the actress' second score in recent months. Total is now up to $38 million, with the latest weekend contributing $3.7 million on 1,805 screens.

Though it's strictly not for "Kids," Shining Excalibur reports that the unrated film will take in another $550,000 over the weekend on 162 screens and is doing as much business during the week--obviously not from the youth audience, which is not allowed admission. The controversial movie is now up to $3.4 million, making it one of the stronger specialized titles of the summer.

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