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'Eraser,' 'Hunchback' Post Strong Openings

Box office: Schwarzenegger thriller takes in about $25 million; Disney's film pulls in $21 million.

June 24, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Warner Bros. and Disney each were basking in a second round of summer box-office hits Sunday with Warner's Arnold Schwarzenegger action film "Eraser" taking in an estimated $25 million in its opening weekend and Disney's animated "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" tallying about $21.3 million.

The two studios already have scored runaway summer successes with "Twister" (Warners) and "The Rock" (Disney).

But the flip side of the weekend's news was the continued decline of Jim Carrey's dark comedy "The Cable Guy" for Sony/Columbia Pictures. That movie slipped to fourth place--a 48% drop in one week--with about $10.3 million in ticket sales. And rival studios expressed doubt that even this estimate from Sony would be reached when final weekend figures are released today.

"The Cable Guy" has done the reverse of most Carrey films, which tended to climb in the second week. The box-office reports were particularly disappointing since Sony was banking on improved results as more of its targeted teen male audience got out of school during the last week.

"I would like to point out that 'Cable Guy' has grossed about $40.6 million in its 10-day run," noted Jeff Blake, head of Sony/Columbia distribution. He declined further comment.

But one studio source was quick to blame the downslide on bad reviews and negative publicity about the film and the studio's decision to pay Carrey an unprecedented $20 million salary, which other studios blame for raising the ceiling on star paychecks and inflating the already burdensome cost of movie-making.

"The Cable Guy" wasn't the only film kicking up controversy over the weekend. Disney's "Hunchback" results had competitors grousing since the studio counted tickets sold at its Disney stores nationwide. Those sales added about $1 million to box-office numbers--a strategy that's a first for the business.

Dick Cook, head of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures distribution subsidiary, said the store ticket sales were included because ticket buyers had to redeem them over the weekend.

An executive for still another studio wondered if squabbling over box-office estimates wasn't getting out of hand.

"You know the industry is getting crazy when people are questioning a $20-million opening," said Tom Sherak, head of 20th Century Fox distribution. "So what if the opening was $20 million instead of $21 million. This is the same story as 'Cable Guy' that had a $19.8 million last week and they got slammed. This is a huge opening. We are now running the danger of losing perspective."

As for Disney's latest ticket strategy: 'I don't know if you can really say there is anything wrong with that. If they've figured out a new way to sell tickets, that's really what this is all about isn't it?" asked Sherak.

"Hunchback" did not open as well as Disney's last animated picture "Pocahantas," which debuted to $29-million box office last year. Cook noted that "Hunchback" results are actually comparable to "Beauty & The Beast," which opened in half as many theaters (2,778) and grossed about $9 million. Both are love stories set in France, albeit "Hunchback" is a bit darker.

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"We think we have a very strong start with 'Hunchback.' Even better we think 'The Rock' will hit $100 million by July 4th," Cook said.

"The Rock" was in third place with about $14.2 million over the three days. That film has grossed a surprising $76.4 million in its three-week run.

"The Rock," like "Twister," is riding on strong word-of-mouth. Conversely, poor word-of-mouth is hurting "The Cable Guy," some exhibitors said.

"Word-of-mouth is what can make or kill a picture," said John Krier, head of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

And that is precisely what Warners is banking on. "We are getting strong word-of-mouth on 'Eraser' from people leaving the theater," said Barry Reardon, head of Warners' distribution. "Arnold is back to himself in this role, at his best."

Still, all studios are nervously awaiting the July 3 opening of Fox's sci-fi "Independence Day." All expect that to be the summer's biggest hit.

Until then, here's how the rest of the films performed over the weekend: "Mission:Impossible" came in fifth with an estimated $6.6 million; "Twister" was in sixth with $6.4 million; "Dragonheart" was in seventh with $3 million; "Eddie" was in eighth with $2.1 million; "The Phantom" was in ninth with $1.6 million; and "Moll Flanders" pulled up tenth with $659,000.

John Sayles' critically acclaimed "Lone Star" opened in 21 theaters, grossing about $210,000 or $10,000 per theater--strong results for an art-house picture in a summer dominated by action movies.

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