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'Twister' Blows Rivals Away

Box office: The tornado thriller pulled in an estimated $37.5 million, the seventh-biggest opening in history, and left blue skies instead of clouds for Warner Bros. and Universal.

May 13, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Twister" obliterated its competition at the box office over the weekend with an estimated $37.5-million opening, becoming the biggest three-day non-holiday movie opening ever in the month of May.

Director Jan De Bont's tornado thriller, showing in 2,414 theaters nationwide, not only sucked up 65% of the weekend's total box office take of about $57 million, but also basically blew away Warner Bros.' recent troubled record at the box office. Warners and Universal are co-producers/distributors on Steven Spielberg's Amblin production, which cost $70 million to $90 million and stars Helen Hunt, of TV's "Mad About You," and Bill Paxton.

The film marked the seventh-biggest opening in movie history. Warners boasts three of the top five biggest three-day openers--and all three have been "Batman" movies. "Batman Forever"--the third in the series--is the biggest ever with $52.8 million over a three-day weekend. It opened in June 1995.

Barry Reardon, head of Warners distribution, said Sunday: "I have to be honest, I thought early on this film would open at $22.5 million. I changed my estimate to $25 [million] to $30 million when I saw the reviews on Friday. But the killer was [estimates of Friday's ticket sales]. Still I kept my estimate at about $32 million, since a movie rarely jumps more than 20% from Friday to Saturday. Not this time. 'Twister' went up 38%--a first.

"I gotta tell ya, it feels positively great."

Reardon is optimistic that "Twister" marks the end of Warners' box-office slump. The studio's Arnold Schwarzenegger action film "Eraser" will open June 21 against Disney's animated "Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "A Time To Kill," based on yet another John Grisham novel, will open July 24 with no real competition.

"If luck holds, Warners will lead out this summer with three straight $100-million movies," Reardon said.

He attributed the "Twister" blowout to several factors: A strong marketing campaign, little competition for the same audience and a decision to open the film nearly two weeks before Paramount's expected blockbuster, "Mission: Impossible" starring Tom Cruise.

Warners, the domestic distributor of "Twister," has to share the limelight with Universal. Since both co-financed the picture, they split every dollar made on the movie 50-50. Universal is distributing the film overseas.

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"When all is said and done, this film will be very profitable for both studios," said Nikki Rocco, head of Universal distribution.

"I'm thrilled about these results for another reason," Rocco said. "This just goes to show you that you can open a mega-hit non-holiday. This movie opened two weeks before Memorial Day and the public is telling all of us, they want good movies any time, year-round."

Aside from "Twister" the only new release to make the top 10 over the weekend was Orion's "Original Gangstas," which was coming in ninth with an estimated gross of $1.03 million, playing in 475 theaters.

Grabbing second, according to early estimates, was 20th Century Fox's "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" with $3.9 million. Sony/Columbia's teenage horror flick "The Craft"--the big surprise winner a weekend earlier--dropped to third with an estimated $3.8 million.

In fourth was was Paramount's "Primal Fear" with about $2.32 million and a cumulative $48.3 million in its sixth week. In fifth, Universal's "The Quest" scored about $2 million, while MGM/UA's blockbuster "The Birdcage" was in sixth with $1.45 million. That film, which has been in theaters for 10 weeks, has taken in an estimated $115 million, the year's biggest cumulative gross to date. (MGM/UA hasn't been as lucky with "Mulholland Falls," which has only been in theaters for three weeks, grossing a cumulative $9.7 million, including only $916,000 during the last three days.)

Running in seventh was Fox's "The Great White Hype" with an estimated $1.24 million. In eighth was Disney's animated "James and the Giant Peach" with $1.2 million for the weekend and a cumulative $24.6 million for the past five weeks.

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Disney's new release "Boys," starring Winona Ryder, was spurned at the box office with only $300,000 on 328 screens. (Its other current big disappointment, Sharon Stone's "Last Dance," brought in a weak $975,000 at 1,563 theaters or $624 per screen, in its second week.)

Like Warners, Disney's plight could shift quickly in coming weeks with "The Rock" starring Sean Connery opening June 7 and "Hunchback" two weeks later.

Rounding out the top 10 was Miramax's "The Pallbearer" with "Friends" TV star David Schwimmer, bringing in an estimated $1.02 million.

Estimates for other weekend openers: Miramax's "Dead Man" starring Johnny Depp played on only 16 screens and was taking in $103,000, for $6,500 per screen; Miramax's "Love and Shadows," showing in only two theaters, was grossing $6,600; and Gramercy's "Cold Comfort Farm" was garnering a surprising $63,252 on only six screens--or about $10,542 a screen.

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