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Will the Dinosaurs Share?

'The Lost World' will have one more weekend to itself before the box-office battle begins for real.

May 28, 1997|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The summer is off to a bang with a dinosaur rampage that is not likely to slow down for a while, say industry watchers.

With its mega-record $92.7-million opening five-day weekend, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" may devour all the summer's competition--at least for the next few weeks.

"Every film will be consumed by these big mothers," said Jack Trout, marketing strategist and owner of Trout and Partners. "You get a film this big, it dominates distribution. Multiplexes say, 'We'll put it on five screens. A dinosaur in the hand is worth two in the bush.' "

Indeed, the highest individual gross in North America was at Universal City's Cineplex Odeon, which showed the film on six screens and made $274,000 over the Memorial Day weekend, according to Howard Lichtman, executive vice president of marketing and communications for the theater chain.

The runaway success of "The Lost World," though it exceeded predictions, was expected, and came during a wide-open period where no other big summer movies dared to tread. But the stakes have been officially raised, and real sparks could fly when other big summer movies--including "Con Air," "Speed 2: Cruise Control," "Batman & Robin" and "Hercules"--will be opening.

"You had a unique situation with 'Jurassic Park' where all the other studios really stayed away, not only from that weekend, but from the weekend before and after," Lichtman said. "What that did is it cleared the availability of screens for the film. Had something opened up earlier in May and done really well or even a week or two before, they wouldn't have had the open field. It's very rare that that occurs. It will probably happen again at some point in time but you have to have another juggernaut film that every single studio doesn't want to counterprogram."

Studios are increasingly realizing that opening dates, particularly in the summer and during Christmas holiday time, can mean everything. Universal Studios, which distributed "The Lost World," claimed dibs on Memorial Day weekend last December, scaring off everyone else from opening even within a two-week period of the dinosaur sequel. (TriStar's "Godzilla," meanwhile, laid claim several weeks ago to Memorial Day weekend '98, despite having just gone into production.)

And Paramount has postponed the planned July 4 opening of "Titanic," reportedly to Dec. 19. This has sent exhibitors scrambling, though most have become accustomed to increasingly fluid summer opening dates over the past few years.

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"The Lost World" set another record in the number of screens it opened on--a figure that is estimated at more than 5,000, topping the record set last year by Paramount's "Mission: Impossible," which also opened over the Memorial Day weekend, on just under 5,000 screens, according to John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. "The Lost World" earned an estimated $28,262 per screen for five days (compared with "Mission: Impossible's" $18,862).

It also apparently will become the film to most quickly reach $100 million at the box office. "Independence Day" last year reached the milestone in seven days, but "The Lost World" is expected to reach that mark sometime today, in six days (which includes the previews on Thursday in limited cities.)

The trend this summer will likely be for expected blockbusters to follow this lead and book on record numbers of screens, at least for their opening weekends, say industry insiders.

"I think you're going to see more of this," particularly on opening weekends, said Jeff Blake, president of distribution for Sony Pictures. "I think you're going to see more multiple screens and high print counts. There's no question multiple screens in megaplexes certainly favor high-profile movies and there's a lot of them this summer."

But others say that it will be the rare movie that manages a similar feat.

"It's easier said than done," said Harold Vogel, entertainment analyst for Cowen and Co. "It's not easy to get 5,000 screens at any time. It's a chicken-and-egg story. If you have the perceived blockbuster, Spielberg, the master director of a presold picture, you can command 5,000 screens and scare the rest of the industry away from that weekend. But which is the chicken and which is the egg? And if you don't have that kind of capability, you're not going to get 5,000 screens. It's a pretty rare event."

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Vogel sees the more interesting contest starting up in mid-June.

"The dinosaurs have a two-week window of unmatched opportunity and they're doing better than expected, but they're taking up the time and space effectively," he said. "By then, more than likely everybody who wanted to see this movie has already seen it, and the real battle starts."

Word is strong on Disney's next animated offering, "Hercules," which opens nationwide June 27 (June 15 in New York; June 25 in L.A.), Warner Bros.' "Batman & Robin" due out June 20 and Columbia's "Men in Black," set for July 2.

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