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'First Wives' Are Really Enjoying the Last Laugh

September 30, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Revenge is sweet, especially for a trio of steely matrons called "The First Wives Club" who continued over the weekend to maintain an iron grip on the biggest September ever at the movie box office.

Paramount's dumped-wives-get-even comedy was in first place for the second week in a row, taking in $15.5 million and slipping only 18% from its $18.9-million opening, according to early estimates.

In two weeks, "First Wives Club" has garnered an estimated $42 million, a September record, and has left the industry marveling at its success. Industry sources said the film appears to have clicked with an untargeted group of ticket buyers who were overlooked as studios poured out special effects and loud action films during the summer.

"What it touched is a lot of people who have been burned in relationships," one studio source said. "And for a lot of women that had to suffer through action movies men or kids wanted to see or were left with whatever scraps were offered, this tells you they are hungry for something that they can relate to."

Not only did "First Wives' " Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler out-muscle Bruce Willis in "Last Man Standing" during both films' opening a week earlier, they also held heartthrob Hugh Grant and his debuting "Extreme Measures" to the second spot this weekend. Grant's Castle Rock film, released through Columbia and co-starring Gene Hackman, opened to an estimated $7.1 million.

By comparison, New Line Cinema's "Last Man Standing" opened to $7 million a week earlier and dropped to third with about $4.1 million over this weekend.

MGM/UA's "2 Days in the Valley" opened in fourth with $3.48 million, while Columbia's "Fly Away Home" was fifth with $3.2 million and an estimate of $13.5 million in three weeks. In fact, the family story that spins around the lives of geese has proved an anomaly post-summer. During the three-month peak moviegoing summer period, family films were the poorest performers overall. But this movie has wings.

"I think the reason this movie is holding so well is that people are realizing it's as much of an adult movie as a family movie," said John Krier, head of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, Inc. "It is truly a beautiful film and not what it appears to be."

Twentieth Century Fox's summer blockbuster "Independence Day" moved back into the Top 10, landing in sixth place with $2.5 million, thanks largely to sneaks of Tom Hanks' upcoming "That Thing You Do!" shown on 1,000 of the 1,822 screens playing "ID4." The latter has grossed $293.5 million in its 13-week run.

Seventh place was a tie for Universal's "Bulletproof" and Hollywood Pictures' "First Kid" at $1.9 million. Columbia's "Maximum Risk" was ninth with $1.7 million, and Warner Bros.' "Tin Cup" was in 10th with $1.2 million.

Official weekend figures will be released today.

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