Steven Spielberg just rendered previous box-office opening records prehistoric. By the close of this Memorial Day weekend, his "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" sequel is expected to surpass its $75-million budget and fall $11 million shy of the $100-million blockbuster mark.
And that's just opening weekend--a phenomenon by any standard in movie history.
The three-day estimate for Friday, Saturday and Sunday was a conservative $69.1 million based on playing more than 5,000 screens nationwide, said John Krier, head of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. Combine that with another $2.6 million Universal says it grossed from Thursday night previews, and the total jumps to $71.7 million. By the close of the four-day holiday, Universal is estimating the dinosaur film could top $84 million to $86 million; with Thursday previews, that total could reach $89 million.
Some of Universal's competitors are placing their bets much higher, with the final tally hitting $90 million to $93 million.
Estimates aside, the statistics are:
* "Lost World" on Friday beat the "Batman Forever" all-time opening day record of $20 million, set on Friday, June 16, 1995, by about $2 million. Its $22 million continued to climb Saturday with the day raking in an additional $24.8 million. In contrast, "Batman Forever" fell off on its second day, grossing $18 million, noted Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of distribution.
* "Lost World's" full second-day total of $24.8 million was the largest single-day gross ever, according to Exhibitor Relations.
Opening three- and four-day estimates obliterate the three-day "Batman Forever" total of$52.8 million and "Mission: Impossible's" $85.7-million record set last Memorial Day weekend. The four-day total could easily surpass last year's $85-million five-day total for "Independence Day," which opened on July 3.
* Spielberg, the industry's highest grossing director, beat his own high mark on "Lost World's" prequel. "Jurassic Park," one of the most anticipated openers in 1993, scored a $47-million three-day opening weekend. It went on to gross $916-million box-office worldwide, the biggest movie take hands down. Its domestic box office alone was $357 million.
Spielberg, who has a penchant for ducking interviews on opening weekends of his movies, was not available for comment.
It is too soon to say whether he will be considering a third "Jurassic Park" project; he plans to turn his creative attention and energy to running his own new studio, DreamWorks. He has the option to make movies at other studios including Universal, but those close to him expect him to pour his efforts into shaping DreamWorks features. If Universal does make another "Jurassic Park" sequel, Spielberg could bow out as director as he did on the "Jaws" franchise. He directed only the first "Jaws," not the two sequels.
In the meantime, he and Universal will bask in their "Lost World" glory. "I learned a long time ago what a privilege it was to work with Steven. He's done it again," said Casey Silver, Universal Pictures chairman.
This spectacular opening wasn't just good for Universal, however. "When good pictures hit the marketplace the whole business expands," noted Mark Zucker, a distribution executive for Sony Pictures Entertainment, parent of Columbia and TriStar Pictures. "Look at what happened over the last few months with the 'Star Wars' trilogy . . . what a boon it was for business."
While Zucker and others concede "Lost World" may have dominated about two-thirds of the weekend's business, they see it as a great jump-start for the summer season.
One executive at 20th Century Fox said he believed that "Lost World" would maintain its momentum, citing the lack of head-on competition until the release of Touchstone's "Con Air," which is due for release on June 6, followed by Fox's "Speed 2" on June 13 and "Batman and Robin" on June 20.
But not everyone over the weekend was as thrilled with Spielberg's conquest.
Representatives of the environmentalist group Wetlands Action Network protested the Thursday night previews of "Lost World," playing every hour at the Cineplex Odeon Third Street Promenade complex in Santa Monica. Flanked by an acting troupe with its players dressed up like dying frogs singing "Home, Home on the Swamp," the group was trying to convince moviegoers to boycott the film as a protest to Spielberg and his DreamWorks' partners' plan to build their studio in Playa Vista, claiming it will destroy nearby wetlands. The studio would actually be built more than a mile away from the Ballona wetlands.
Marcia Hanscom, the group's leader at the event, said: "We've had a strong reaction to this with a lot of people telling us they had no plans to see it after hearing our message. They literally stepped out of [the movie's ticket] line. We just feel there's such an irony to what Spielberg is doing . . . building a studio and endangering wildlife when the whole message of his movie is to leave nature alone."