Last week's Oscar nominations gave a box-office boost to several contenders, especially "Babe" and "Sense and Sensibility," but the clear ticket-sales winner over the four-day Presidents Day weekend was "Broken Arrow."
Still, the appeal of the golden statuette had Hollywood distributors trying to cash in on their contenders, especially films that have been in theaters for quite a while. "Babe," Universal's beloved porker picture released in August and on the last legs of a 28-week run, saw ticket sales double from about $200,000 to $400,000 thanks largely to its seven nominations, including best picture.
"Sense and Sensibility," another best picture candidate with seven nominations, was estimated to be taking in about $3.6 million, up 29% over the previous weekend. Sony/Columbia Pictures had added 102 theaters, bringing the total to 1,054, in hopes of enhancing the film's box office. The film is now in its 10th week and still ranked ninth among the weekend's top 10 grossing movies.
"Anybody who thinks the nominations didn't help should look at this picture," said Jeff Blake, president of Sony's distribution. "This film was probably the biggest beneficiary."
As for the films that opened this weekend, all fell short compared to "Broken Arrow," now in its second week, with a four-day holiday estimate of $14.4 million. For the newcomers, Buena Vista's "Muppet Treasure Island" was neck and neck with Universal's "Happy Gilmore" for second and third place. "Muppet Treasure Island" will probably place second with about $11.1 million, while "Happy Gilmore" could come in third with an estimated $11 million.
Columbia's "City Hall," starring Al Pacino as New York's mayor, turned up a disappointing $8.3 million, putting it in fourth place. But Blake blamed the slow showing on weather, since 10 inches of snow fell in New York on Friday's opening night.
"If you don't think the weather had an impact, we saw an increase of 335% in ticket sales from Friday to Saturday," Blake added. "Friday was devastating."
Two other films with Oscar nods that remained in the holiday weekend's top 10 were United Artist's "Leaving Las Vegas," in eighth with an estimated $3.7 million, and Buena Vista's "Mr. Holland's Opus," in fifth with an estimated $7.2 million (a 10% drop from the previous weekend).
The other best picture contenders didn't seem to glean much in ticket sales from last week's nominations. They were Miramax's "The Postman (Il Postino)," Universal's "Apollo 13" and Paramount's "Braveheart." "Apollo," out on video, is only showing in one Westwood theater, primarily for academy members' viewing, while the Italian-language "Postman," in limited run (about 147 theaters), was expected to bring in about $450,000.
Mel Gibson's "Braveheart," which has the most nominations with 10, was re-released for the second time and was expected to make about $1.85 million. The film, originally released May 24, runs three hours, and Paramount says that affects the number of showings and consequently the box-office take.
Among the holiday weekend's disappointments was the Ellen DeGeneres comedy "Mr. Wrong," opening in sixth place with an estimated $6.3 million.
As for the holdovers, Paramount's comedy "Black Sheep" slid from third place to seventh with an estimated $4.8 million while Columbia's Demi Moore thriller "The Juror" dropped from fourth to 10th place in only its third week, collecting $3.5 million.
John Krier, head of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, said he expected the holiday total by Monday's close to be about $82 million, 16% higher than last year. The biggest box office for the four-day Presidents Day weekend was $83 million in 1991.