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'The Craft' Has the Knack for Scaring Up an Audience

Box office: Despite hype for Sharon Stone's 'Last Dance' and the film debuts of two TV stars, the teen thriller takes No. 1 spot in early estimates.

May 06, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The Craft," which opened with some favorable reviews but not much advance attention, jumped ahead of the pack in the box-office race over the weekend, leaving behind highly promoted newcomers such as "Last Dance" starring Sharon Stone, "The Pallbearer" with David Schwimmer and "Barb Wire" featuring Pamela Anderson Lee.

A teen horror thriller, "The Craft" worked a little black magic for downtrodden Columbia Pictures, bringing in an estimated $7 million for a studio that's been in serious need of a hit.

"It's a sweet feeling to be No. 1 again. We certainly hoped this picture would do well, but I have to say it was a nice surprise," said Jeff Blake, head of Sony Pictures/Columbia's distribution, on Sunday. "The teenagers loved it because it was their movie and young women went for it because the sub-theme is about women taking control. We've had a lot of adult movies with big stars that haven't worked or certainly opened like this. What this tells you is that kids still drive a movie."

As for Stone's less than smash opening, one source at Touchstone/Buena Vista--the studio that released the picture--said: "The audience is sending a message to Stone: 'We want to see you in a certain kind of picture and this isn't it.' "

Stone's death-row inmate drama, which was in sixth place with an estimated $2.7 million in ticket sales, wasn't the only prison picture opening the past weekend. On a per-screen average, her competitor, Miramax's "Captives" starring Julia Ormond and Tim Roth, beat her film handsomely.

"Last Dance" brought in about $1,727 per screen, playing on 1,563 screens nationwide. "Captives," a virtually un-hyped picture, captured about $5,000 per screen on only four screens.

The early results could further batter Stone's reputation as a box-office draw after "The Quick and the Dead" earned $17.3 million (a cumulative gross as of March 14, 1995) and "Diabolique" garnered $15.8 million (cumulative gross as of last week). Stone was part of an ensemble cast in "Casino" in which she was nominated for an Oscar.

"Obviously, we hoped for a better performance from 'Last Dance.' I think it's a disturbing subject matter that makes it difficult for a certain part of the audience," noted Dick Cook, head of Buena Vista distribution. But Stone wasn't the only star disappointed by early estimates of the three-day box-office weekend. "Pallbearer"--"Friends" TV star Schwimmer's big screen debut--took in a modest $2.35 million on 829 screens to grab ninth place. Meanwhile, "Barb Wire," starring Lee of "Baywatch" fame, was grossing an estimated $1.7 million on 1,312 screens. Her film debut didn't appear to make the top 10.

Another picture with a TV star that opened to somewhat disappointing results was Damon Wayans in "The Great White Hype." That film was in fifth place with about $3.3 million on 1,493 screens.

But Fox recouped with its hit "The Truth About Cats & Dogs," which was in second place in its second week, with an estimated $6 million. To date, the film has taken in about $14.7 million.

Holdover films were still among the the top attractions. "The Quest" came in third with about $4.1 million; "Primal Fear" was fourth with about $3.75 million; and "The Birdcage"--this year's biggest hit to date--was seventh with $2.5 million. In eighth place was "James and the Giant Peach" with an estimated $2.4 million, while "Mulholland Falls" dropped to the 10th spot with an estimated $2.27 million.

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