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'Michael': Miracle at Box Office

Movies: Estimates show John Travolta's angel film setting a Christmas week record; 'Evita' and 'People vs. Larry Flynt' hit big in limited release.

December 30, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

John Travolta's grubby archangel "Michael" was kissed by the box-office gods, bringing in the best Christmas-week opening ever with an estimated $17.8 million in three days.

The first and last theatrical release made by the now-defunct Turner Pictures, "Michael," which New Line Cinema picked up to distribute, has taken in about $28 million since its Wednesday opening. Both figures topped the previous Christmas-opening record-holder, 1990's "The Godfather, Part III."

The only other new film in wide release, "The Evening Star"--Paramount's star-studded and highly publicized sequel to Oscar winner "Terms of Endearment"--drew mixed reviews and over three days took in only $3.3 million in 1,265 theaters for 10th place.

Columbia Pictures' critically acclaimed "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and Hollywood Pictures' "Evita" opened strongly in Oscar-qualifying limited runs. Both will expand to theaters throughout the nation in coming weeks.

In a business that loves to tout firsts, "Evita," which stars Madonna, was able to croon about its three-day gross of $200,000 in just two theaters, including Hollywood's Cinerama Dome. Its distributor, Disney's Buena Vista, said the figure resulted in the "highest per-screen average ever for a non-stage show in limited release."

"Flynt," which opened in 16 theaters, grossed about $528,000. "We think we have a strong commercial hit judging by how this film has played in nine cities so far," said Jeff Blake, head of Sony Pictures/Columbia distribution. On Jan. 10, the studio plans to expand the picture to 1,200 theaters.

"Flynt" was one of several strong pictures to provide Sony a happy ending to a year fraught with flops (including the costly, star-driven "The Cable Guy" and "The Fan") as well as management turmoil and executive shuffles.

Tom Cruise's hit "Jerry Maguire," produced by Sony's TriStar Pictures, took second in the Friday-to-Sunday period with about $14.3 million, upping its gross in three weeks to about $60.6 million. Columbia opened Kenneth Branagh's four-hour "Hamlet" to $90,000 in three days, showing only in Los Angeles and New York. On Jan. 24, the studio will open the film in 23 more cities. Another Columbia release, "Some Mother's Son," opened in 14 theaters, grossing about $94,000.

" 'Jerry Maguire' is one of the big Christmas hits," said Sony's Blake. " 'Flynt' is certainly one of the most anticipated films in limited release. And 'Hamlet' is doing nearly capacity business in a limited run. That feels great for us. Everyone at this company is charged up for the new year. We needed this."

Elsewhere in limited debuts, Paramount opened the Albert Brooks comedy "Mother" in six theaters, scoring about $136,000. Gramercy rolled out "The Portrait of a Lady" in seven theaters, attracting about $105,550, as well as "I'm Not Rappaport," which totaled about $17,800 on three screens.

The rest of the three-day top 10: "101 Dalmatians" was third with about $11.8 million. (In its fifth week, the film has grossed about $104.5 million, topping $100 million on Saturday.) In fourth was "Beavis and Butt-head Do America" with an estimated $10.4 million (bringing its two-week total to about $41.3 million); "Scream" was fifth with $8.5 million; "One Fine Day" was in sixth at $8.1 million; "The Preacher's Wife" was seventh at $7.7 million; "Mars Attacks!" was eighth at $5.1 million and "My Fellow Americans" was in ninth at $4.2 million.

Final figures will be released today.

"This has been a record year and it will be tough to beat," said John Krier, head of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, noting that box office for 1996 to date is approaching $5.8 billion. Last year, Krier's firm reported $5.438 billion for overall industry box office.

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