"Twister" stormed toward the $100-million mark at the box office over the weekend, taking in an estimated $38.1 million, only a slight drop from its huge $41-million opening a week earlier.
That brought its 10-day total to $96 million and the likelihood that it would hit the magic $100-million on Tuesday--the same day Paramount Pictures begins sneaking another anticipated blockbuster, Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible."
With the latter film opening early in the week in 1,300 theaters nationwide, it will basically wind up with a six-day opening--the longest ever for a Paramount film. Any competition--with the exception of "Twister"--could self-destruct, exhibitors say. By Wednesday, Paramount will have the picture showing on more than 4,000 screens in 2,932 theaters.
"We simply wanted to take advantage of a great opportunity," said Barry London, Paramount's head of distribution.
Very smart, say competitors. But the anticipation of "Mission: Impossible" and the performance of Warner Bros.-Universal's co-production "Twister" left another Universal picture, "Flipper," badly overshadowed at the weekend box office. Although the movie, based on TV's favorite dolphin, snared second place, the $25-million picture hooked only an estimated $4.5 million opening.
"Flipper" director Alan Shapiro was a bit saddened and befuddled by the results. "I knew it was in trouble when I went around to the theaters over the weekend. I was standing at one, watching this father with his four little kids telling them to hurry up, they were going to miss the movie. They ran right by me. But the movie they were going to see was 'Twister,' not 'Flipper.' I felt like I was living the end of some Charlie Chaplin movie."
Shapiro added: "I put two years of my life into this film and I know it's not just some TV rip-off. It's funny and Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood were great. It saddens me that it won't get the chance it deserves."
Although "Flipper" had a heavy marketing campaign, Shapiro and other industry observers speculated that even without being sandwiched between two mega-hits, it might have performed better with a mid-to-late July opening. Many kids aren't even out of school until next month and the movie basically targets the preteen and early teen matinee crowd. Warner Bros.' "Free Willy"--a big fish movie with a similar theme--did quite well opening mid-summer 1993.
Asked why Universal didn't wait until school was out to open the film, Universal spokesman Allen Sutton said May has always been a strong opening period for the studio's family films. " 'The Flintstones' and 'Casper' were released in May around Memorial Day or the week before and did very well," he said. "We were going with that track record."
Some competitors wondered if Universal decided to sacrifice "Flipper" in mid-May and focus on positioning its more expensive big summer movies, particularly the special effects-laden "Dragonheart" (opening May 31) and Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor" (June 28), at more opportune release periods.
Sutton said that's not true. "Besides," he noted, "there is no shame in ["Flipper"] being No. 2. Obviously, we're a little disappointed and would have liked to see it do even better. But we were very pleased with the picture. It's just that "Twister" is dwarfing everything."
Barry Reardon, Warners' head of distribution, couldn't agree more. He noted that "Jurassic Park" hit $100 million in nine days and "Batman" hit $100 million in 10 days while "Twister' has a shot at hitting $100 million in 11 days--"and that's blockbuster status."
As for the performance of other films over the past weekend, "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" slipped to third with an estimated $3.25 million; "The Craft" was in fourth with $2.9 million; New Line's "Heaven's Prisoners" with Alec Baldwin was opening in fifth place with about $2.3 million; "Primal Fear" dropped to sixth with $2 million; "The Quest" was in seventh at about $1.5 million; "The Birdcage" was holding steady in eighth with an estimated $1.3 million; and "The Great White Hype" was ninth with about $784,000.
Ironically, one of the surprises over the weekend was the resurrection of Steve Martin's "Sgt. Bilko." That movie opened March 29 to disappointing results but managed to muscle its way to 10th place during the past three days with a take of about $752,640. The reason: the movie started playing in second-run houses, noted John Krier, head of the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. "That tells you it's playing to old-timers and people who remember the TV show. Sometimes you get surprises in these 'dollar house' runs and this was certainly one of them."