Cruise, Costner, Culkin continue cash course

Star power and its ramifications is the talk of this holiday season.

Reading the tea leaves at the bottom of the Christmas weekend box office cup reveals that, of all the high-powered, high-priced talent appearing in the major holiday releases, the names Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner and young Macaulay Culkin still have what it takes to convince the masses to part with their entertainment dollars.

Overall, the top 10 films for the Christmas weekend were off almost 11% from last year’s record $ 85,312,546 to $ 76,273,706.

But Cruise was doing his best to hold the fort in “A Few Good Men.” The Columbia/Castle Rock film is the nation’s No. 1 attraction with $ 13,608,117 for the Christmas weekend on 2,112 screens and $ 51.4 million in just 17 days. By the time it’s through, “Men” should gross as much as Cruise’s last two films combined–“Far and Away” and “Days of Thunder.”

Even with a bad haircut, Costner can do virtually no wrong. The critically bullet-ridden “The Bodyguard” showed surprising resilience with $ 8,775,104 over the holiday weekend, a 61% leap, taking its total soaring to $ 72.2 million, better than last year’s “JFK.” If it passes $ 100 million–and it shows every likelihood of doing so–it will be Costner’s third film to enter that charmed circle in the past three years, after “Dances With Wolves” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

Great gifts also arrive in small packages. And Culkin’s third Christmas present in a row, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” already has grossed close to $ 125 million, $ 9,117,091 of that over Christmas weekend on 2,450 screens. Along with the first “Home” and last year’s “My Girl,” his three starring vehicles have brought in more than $ 450 million to date. Worldwide, Culkin is on his way to being a billion-dollar kid.

Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson can’t be counted out either–with reservations.

Gibson’s “Forever Young” benefited from holiday romantics, scoring $ 7,678, 877 in its second weekend, up 37% from its somewhat disappointing opener. The fantasy/romance has grossed $ 18.3 million to date and is expected to settle into the $ 50 million neighborhood. Yet, imagine how much worse this time-travel concept film would have done without the man from Down Under above the title.

Nicholson is probably Hollywood’s most valuable and well-remunerated supporting actor. His small but incendiary role in “Men” has propelled the courtroom drama into the same rarified circle as “Batman” and “Terms of Endearment,” major hits in which Nicholson’s presence was an indisputable plus.

However, his value in Fox’s “Hoffa,” a picture he had to carry on his own shoulders, was not as sanguine. The acceptable $ 6,406,012 amassed in its opening weekend on 1,066 screens doesn’t reveal that the film was up only slightly from Friday to Saturday while most other movies doubled or tripled their Friday numbers. The drama will have to be Teamster-driven to get far into the New Year.

The verdict on Robin Williams is mixed this Christmas. He is the solid core of Disney’s magical “Aladdin”–not to discount the contributions of the studio’s brilliant animation squad–with his comic tour de force that delivered $ 13,381, 926 over the weekend on 2,255 screens and better than $ 80 million to date.

“Aladdin,” which finished in second place, is now running about $ 17 million ahead of “Beauty and the Beast” and widens that lead week by week. Disney reportedly is hiring more bodies to carry home all the money the film will make between now and Monday with every child in the U.S. out of school. Williams’ “Toys” however, is defective. In its second weekend, the out-there comedy actually dropped by 17%, winding down to $ 3,978,283 on 1,295 screens. With $ 11 .6 million to date, the film is not expected to do more than $ 30 million. That’s well below Williams’ other recent efforts like “Hook,””The Fisher King” and “Awakenings.”

Steve Martin, without a comedy beneath his wings, is grounded. His Paramount drama “Leap of Faith” made a bit of recovery from its disastrous first weekend, increasing its take by 26% to a still-dry $ 4,052,606 million on 1,597 screens and $ 9.1 million in 10 days.

There was a time, as recently as last summer, when the words “Eddie Murphy comedy” could be used as collateral for a home mortgage. His “The Distinguished Gentleman,” however, is courting foreclosure with only $ 4,262,780 over the Christmas weekend — despite the absence of any real comedy competition — and has made just $ 30.4 million to date.

Ice-T and Ice Cube are at least rapping up some urban dollars in “Trespass,” which had a debut weekend of $ 5,012,910 on 1,022 screens. That the film fell from Friday to Saturday, though, indicates it may not be a crossover pic, which gives it a low total-gross ceiling.

Based on its initial five days in 20 theaters, “Scent of a Woman” shows that Al Pacino in the right vehicle can be a potent lure. A weekend of $ 357,468, a powerful per-screen average of $ 17,873, plus Wednesday/Thursday grosses add up to $ 480,296 in five days. Universal sneaks the movie Saturday night before the Jan. 8 wide break.

Fox’s stellar distaff vehicle, “Used People,” with three Academy Award-winning actresses, grabbed ahold of $ 209,880 on 15 screens for the weekend and $ 321,865 in 12 days. Both it and “Scent” have potential in January wide release, especially with several current national releases looking to a fast fade.

TriStar’s “Chaplin,” however, did no better than $ 84,669 on five screens and dropped from Friday to Saturday to Sunday, which portends an iffy future for the expensive biopic. Film goes into about 1,000 runs on Jan. 8.

The indies have several winners for the season, the most potent being Miramax’s “The Crying Game” which grossed a laughing-all-the-way-to-the-bank $ 887,535 over the weekend on 121 screens and about $ 2.6 million so far.

Samuel Goldwyn’s well-received “Peter’s Friends” got off to a good start on 45 screens with $ 353,610 in its first three days.

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