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Action-Hero Films Have $70-Million Blast

Box office: 'Lethal 4' opens at No. 1, 'Soldiers' in third, as 'Armageddon' stays solid.

July 13, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was a guns 'n' ammo weekend at the box office, with "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Small Soldiers" sandwiching "Armageddon" and blasting about $70 million in business among them. Who says action isn't hot this summer?

The "Lethal Weapon 4" fan base did not disappoint. Warner Bros. is reporting an estimated $34.4 million in 3,117 theaters. That's the most lethal of these weapons yet, beating out No. 3's $33.2 million back in 1992 (though it only opened in about 2,500 theaters). Warners' competitors have "Lethal Weapon 4" opening at somewhere between $32.5 million and $33 million.

But what's a million or two between friends--and regardless, it's a great start for what is probably the swan song for the popular buddy cop series, at least with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. The Hollywood rumor mill has co-stars Chris Rock and newcomer Jet Li taking over the franchise.

Gibson may have knocked Bruce Willis' "Armageddon" out of first place, but it wasn't enough to erode the outer-space spectacular's solid business. The folks at Disney were performing their famous "we-told-you-so dance" ritual over the weekend as the studio's most expensive movie ever withstood the heat and stayed in the kitchen with an estimated $23 million in its second weekend, a surprisingly solid showing after its shaky start during the Fourth of July weekend. Add in blastoff midweek business and "Armageddon's" total hovers at around $100 million after less than two weeks. It's now shaping into the film to beat for the summer.

Every penny for the two top films is as welcome as summer rain in the Valley. "Lethal" (which reportedly cost between $120 million and $150 million) and "Armageddon" are, along with "Godzilla," the big-ticket items for summer, with production and marketing costs coming in at around $200 million apiece. The novelty of "Small Soldiers" drew its targeted crowd (mostly young boys) that got the computer-animated DreamWorks release off to a solid start with an estimated $14.4 million on 2,539 screens. Though it doesn't look to be another "Toy Story," the opening was good enough for "Soldiers" to squeak by "Dr. Dolittle," which dropped only 35% to $12.8 million. With $89 million already counted, Eddie Murphy's latest comedy should hit $100 million by this time next week.

The weekend's other family-oriented arrival, "Madeline," just couldn't compete with the higher-profile young-skewing films like "Soldiers," "Dolittle" and "Mulan." The period comedy drew mostly good reviews and $6.6 million in 1,863 theaters, marking it as a modest performer. But "Madeline" was no match for its primary rival, "Mulan," which came in ahead at an estimated $7 million after a month. It's Disney's biggest animated hit in a long time; with almost $92 million in the bank, "Mulan" will surpass "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Hercules" (and $100 million) over the coming weekend.

Business for the midsummer weekend was substantially ahead of last year, according to Exhibitor Relations. If estimates hold, the top 12 films will gross somewhere around $115 million, a full 20% ahead of last year's top dozen.

Prospects for a killer July continue strong over the next weekend when Fox's "There's Something About Mary" and Sony's "The Mask of Zorro" starring Antonio Banderas bring some welcome comedy and swashbuckling romance to theaters. The buzz on both is very strong.

Jim Carrey's "The Truman Show" dropped to seventh place with an estimated $3.725 million on 2,186 screens; it's taken in a bit over $116 million after six weeks. "Out of Sight," starring George Clooney, took another substantial drop to $3.7 million in its third weekend as it gets crowded out by new arrivals. Total to date is about $30 million, something of a disappointment for the well-reviewed film. "The X-Files" movie is chugging toward $75 million with $3.7 million over the past weekend in 1,900 theaters, while "Six Days, Seven Nights" continues to please Harrison Ford-Anne Heche fans with $3.5 million and $63.5 million to date.

Rounding out the Top 10 is "A Perfect Murder," fading fast with $1.6 million and $64.4 million so far.

And though the studios have a logjam in theaters for summer, the occasional independent movie breaks through. Based on its single theater New York debut, Artisan's "Pi" is expected to bring in $32,000, the best art house start of the year. "Pi" opens in L.A. on July 24 at the Nuart.

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