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'Maguire' Cuts Sweet Deal at the Box Office

Movies: Tom Cruise's latest pulls in an estimated $17.5 million, the strongest December opening ever for a non-sequel. 'Mars Attacks!' lands in second place.

December 16, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No room for negotiation: Tom Cruise's "Jerry Maguire" knocked out the competition over the weekend and brought in an estimated $17.5 million--the biggest December opening ever for a non-sequel.

Cruise even beat one of his own records with the critically praised "Jerry Maguire"--which finally gave Sony's TriStar Pictures some bragging rights after a year of mostly dry runs.

"Jerry Maguire" came in ahead of "The Pelican Brief" ($16.8 million in December 1993), "Dumb and Dumber" ($16.3 million in December 1994) and "A Few Good Men," which Cruise also starred in, ($15.5 million in December 1992).

The only movie with a stronger opening December weekend was the sixth "Star Trek," with $18.2 million in December 1991.

Tim Burton's retro, campy and twisted comedy "Mars Attacks!" for Warner Bros., starring Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening and Tom Jones, was in second place this weekend, debuting with an estimated $9.7 million in 1,955 theaters.

Burton's film pulled in mixed reviews, but John Krier, head of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, and others said they expect "Mars Attacks!" to build on word of mouth with younger audiences. "With a $100-million budget, Warners better hope so," one competitor said.

Disney's "101 Dalmatians" claimed third place with an estimated $8.75 million. In its three-week run, it has grossed about $75.4 million.

The live-action version of Disney's classic beat Disney newcomer "The Preacher's Wife," starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. The film, produced by Disney's Touchstone, placed fourth for the weekend, opening in 1,783 theaters to an estimated $7.4 million. It is expected to spread wider as word of mouth builds, the studio said.

Disney is banking on this Christmas tale, which has a predominantly black cast, to be the first of its kind to cross over to white audiences. Coming weeks will tell.

Others making the weekend's top 10 list, based on preliminary weekend estimates, were: "Daylight," in fifth with $4.1 million (it has grossed about $16.6 million in two weeks); "Jingle All the Way" in sixth with $3.72 million (grossing about $43 million in four weeks); "Star Trek: First Contact" in seventh with $3.45 million (the seventh in the series has grossed about $76.75 million in four weeks); "Ransom" in eighth with $2.8 million (grossing about $117.3 million in six weeks); "Space Jam" in ninth with $2.2 million (grossing about $76 million in five weeks); and "The English Patient" in 10th with $1.7 million (grossing about $16 million in five weeks.)

"The Crucible," starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis and competing for the same audience as "The English Patient," posted $75,000 in just three theaters. It is expected to expand to 115 theaters this week, and wider as the Christmas holiday arrives.

In its three-week run, it has grossed about $283,515.

Final numbers will be released today.

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