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'The Rock' Rolls to $23-Million Opening

Box office: The action thriller gives Disney its best live-action opener ever and unseats 'Mission: Impossible' from top of ticket-sale rankings.

June 10, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The hyperactive Alcatraz film "The Rock" took the box-office lead over the weekend, giving Disney its biggest live-action opening ever with an estimated $23.5 million in ticket sales.

Set on the historic prison island in San Francisco Bay, the film stars Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris. In taking the top spot, "The Rock" had to lure audiences away from two blockbuster summer hits, Paramount's "Mission: Impossible" and Warner Bros.' "Twister."

"Mission: Impossible," starring Tom Cruise, dropped to second with about $14.5 million at the box office, off 33% from the prior weekend (which had already slumped 50% from its opening Memorial Day weekend.) To date, it has made about $130.4 million.

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The tornado epic "Twister," in its fifth week of release, fell 31%, placing third with about $11.8 million. It has made about $187 million in five weeks.

The success of "The Rock" was in sharp contrast to another recently released prison-based movie from Disney, a drama with Sharon Stone called "Last Dance."

"Needless to say, it didn't do well," Dick Cook, head of distribution for Buena Vista and all Disney related companies, said of "Last Dance." "The Rock" is a product of Disney's Hollywood Pictures and is being distributed by Buena Vista.

"But ["The Rock"] was a complete kick," Cook added Sunday. "We thought it would open well, but not like this. It is definitely our biggest live-action opener ever. You can say the effects and the action are great, but it's the repartee between Connery and Cage's characters that seem to be getting the results. We have never had this kind of [exit poll results] from audiences leaving the theaters. Scores were as high with women as with men."

For "The Rock" producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the results are bittersweet. His longtime partner Don Simpson died during production of the film and is memorialized with a dedication in the closing credits. The two had actually ended their partnership after the picture was greenlit by the studio, but he says they remained friends and continued to work on the film together.

"Don would be over the moon with these grosses. He may not be here in person to enjoy this, but I know he is in spirit," Bruckheimer said Sunday. He added that he and Simpson never scored such positive exit results on any of their films as they did with "The Rock"--not even on Cruise's breakout film "Top Gun," a smash hit.

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"This is certainly the biggest non-holiday opener we've ever had. I walked into theaters over the weekend and the disparity in age groups was amazing. The action is hitting the young, Cage is bringing in the girls and Sean is bringing in everybody else," he said. "In fact, we never had a movie where there was applause at the end. And they are applauding at the toughest houses."

Despite his enthusiasm for "The Rock," the results had nothing to do with Bruckheimer's next project, "Con Air"--another prisoner tale starring Cage for another Disney company, Touchstone Pictures. That film is about an airline that transports maximum security inmates. This time, the hostages are in the air and not a prison. Cage plays an inmate being released and aboard a flight when convicts seize the plane. It begins production June 24 and will not hit theaters until next year.

"I guess if you want to call ['The Rock'] a prison movie, you could," said Cook. "But if you're going to compare it to others with a prison setting, it would be only fair to say this gets a leg up because it really is an action film." That could explain the difference from the performance of other films such as 1980's "Brubaker" starring Robert Redford and last year's critically acclaimed "Dead Man Walking," which won Susan Sarandon an Oscar but failed to generate a lot of box-office heat. Coincidentally, Alcatraz is the setting for probably the best performer of any prison film, 1979's "Escape From Alcatraz," starring Clint Eastwood.

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Another weekend opener, Paramount's comic book adaptation, "The Phantom," attracted far less box-office attention than "The Rock," coming in sixth with an estimated $5 million.

"We don't know what happened," Barry London, head of Paramount's distribution, said Sunday. "Certainly, favorable reviews were there. But this film could end up being like 'The Shadow,' which performed better overseas."

As for other films, these were the early industry estimates: "Dragonheart," fourth, $7.1 million; "Eddie," fifth, $5.4 million; "Spy Hard," seventh, $2.5 million; "The Arrival," eighth, $2.1 million; "Flipper," ninth, $1 million; and "The Truth About Cats & Dogs," 10th, $650,000.

Final weekend box-office figures will be released today.

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