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'In & Out' Is Up and Over in Its Box-Office Debut

September 22, 1997|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"In & Out" was definitely in among moviegoers and the top movie out this weekend, earning the second-highest September opening weekend figure ever.

The Paramount Pictures comedy, which grossed an estimated $15.3 million, stars Kevin Kline as a teacher who is "outed" as gay during the Academy Awards ceremony on the eve of his wedding.

"L.A. Confidential," another much-anticipated new film, grossed $5.5 million on 769 screens, finishing in fourth place. Warner Bros.' dark crime drama registered a hefty per-screen average of about $7,150; by comparison, "In & Out" averaged $7,680 on 1,992 screens.

"In & Out" was conceived by producer Scott Rudin after he heard Tom Hanks' public thanking of a gay teacher when he received his best actor Oscar for "Philadelphia." Rudin enlisted Paul Rudnick ("Jeffrey," "Addams Family Values") to write the script.

September has proved a lucky time of year for Rudin and Paramount, who scored the biggest box-office opening ever for that month with "First Wives Club," which opened a year ago at$19.5 million.

"We had a big success last year at this time, day and date," Rudin said, "so it seemed like a time a grown-up audience would be ready to go back and see a more sophisticated movie, one that was not like what they'd been getting all summer."

"In & Out" seems to play as well in the heartland as it does in big cities, said Rob Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group. It will expand to 200 to 300 more theaters Friday.

Mindful of the success of "First Wives Club" during early fall, Paramount officials rescheduled "In & Out" from a planned June opening.

"Besides the total lunacy that occurs during summer, 'First Wives Club' obviously came into play," Friedman said. "September has always been good, even though it's crowded. We felt very comfortable that there was a real opportunity, especially for a comedy."

Theater owners are also happy with the way the month is shaping up. Business is up by 10% over the same time last year.

"Exhibitors were really apprehensive about the fall," said John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office receipts. "But we've got a lot of films coming out, and they feel much better than their initial expectations. This weekend was one of the most competitive weeks of the year."

"The Game"--starring Michael Douglas as a financial baron who takes on a game with life-and-death stakes--applied its eerie brand of sportsmanship in the box-office competition. The PolyGram Pictures release came in second with an estimated $9.2 million on its second weekend out.

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Wishing seemed to make it so for "Wes Craven Presents Wishmaster," the story of an evil genie from the horror specialist, who here served as executive producer. The film, distributed by Live Entertainment, came in third with an estimated $6.5 million.

"Our opening compares favorably with other horror films that have opened recently, like 'Scream,' 'Thinner' and 'Frighteners,' " said Steve Rothenberg, senior vice president of domestic distribution for Live Entertainment.

"It's the first horror film that's been out for a while, and there's a very steady, solid core of horror-film lovers out there. Also, the association with Wes Craven helps too, coming off his huge success with 'Scream,' " Rothenberg said, referring to the director's 1996 hit. "A lot of his fans wanted to come out and check out this movie as well."

"L.A. Confidential," based on a James Ellroy novel, was helped by advance word-of-mouth praise and rave critical notices. Warner Bros. held repeated sneak previews in 20 cities around the country but faced a marketing challenge in a complex plot and an ensemble cast led by Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito.

"You cannot reduce the plot of 'L.A. Confidential' to anything less than a paragraph; there is no overt marketing hook," said Warner Bros. Marketing President Chris Pula. "We would have been frankly remiss by not seeking out the critical community to help tell people, 'You must see this movie.' Luckily, it worked."

Disney's "A Thousand Acres," which stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange as sisters in the film adaptation of Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the bonds of an Iowa family, finished in fifth place with $3 million in its first weekend of release.

Rounding out the rest of the Top 10: Fox Searchlight's "The Full Monty," $2.9 million; Hollywood Pictures' "G.I. Jane," $2.4 million; New Line Cinema's "Money Talks" and Columbia Pictures' "Air Force One," $2.2 million; and Warner Bros.' "Fire Down Below," $1.5 million."

All weekend grosses are estimates; final figures will be released today.

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