‘Dracula’ sucks up $32 million

The holiday fireworks have begun. And there’s still another weekend to go before Thanksgiving, the official start of the Yuletide season.

With an estimated three-day opening of about $ 32 million, Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” should break at least one record — the biggest non-summer opening ever for a film, comfortably besting Universal’s Thanksgiving 1989 debut of “Back to the Future II,” which tallied $ 27.8 million. And that was a sequel.

According to Daily Variety’s box office figures, Francis Coppola’s blood-soaked Gary Oldman starrer ranks well ahead of last year’s pre-Thanksgiving opening of “The Addams Family,” which took in $ 24.2 million in its first three days.

The factoids just keep coming: For Columbia, the 2,491-screen “Dracula” break (about $ 12,800 per screen) was the studio’s fastest out-of-the-gate moneymaker, ahead of “Ghostbusters II’s”$ 29.5 million first gallop in June 1989.

And it’s the industry’s second-biggest opening for a non-sequel. The champ is still “Batman” ($ 40.5 million) in June 1989.

“Dracula” wasn’t the only big news in town. Buena Vista’s “Aladdin” got its wish in a two-theater break in L.A. and New York, where it was a “total sellout, ” according to a Disney spokeswoman, outdistancing the first weekend of “Beauty and the Beast.”

On just two screens “Aladdin” took in an estimated $ 197,000 — an astounding $ 98,000 per theater. The 800-theater nationwide sneak did turn-away business, says Disney, and will be repeated next Sunday. Five-day total on the film should be close to $ 300,000.

Even the rosiest prognostications had “Dracula” doing no better than the mid- $ 20 million range, based on exceptionally high awareness and want-to-see surveys.

Columbia marketing head Sidney Ganis was, as one would expect, elated by the $ 32 million estimate, and further encouraged by the film’s audience breakdown– 47% male and 53% female.

Since genre-wise “Dracula” falls into the horror category, the distaff skew was a good sign. So, too, were the age demographics, which Ganis asserted showed 59% under 25. For an R-rated film with strong older audience identification (the Francis Ford Coppola name), the youthful majority also bodes well for the film’s future.

Of the 41% older patrons, satisfaction was 80% excellent or very good and 59% definite interest, said Ganis.

In light of the coming weekend’s expected boffo “Home Alone 2” numbers, highly positive adult word-of-mouth will be crucial to stemming box office bleeding on “Dracula.”

Considering that the studio keeps the lion’s share of opening weekend dollars–conservatively 70% –“Dracula” should have already made a dent towards recouping its $ 40 million budget, at least covering its release costs.

Ganis would be happy with a 15% to 20% attendance fall-off in the second “Dracula” weekend, though he admitted it’s likely to be higher.

The coming weekend also brings Warners’ “Malcolm X” (opening Wednesday), which is apt to have strong adult appeal as well as a solid young urban audience.

The one-two punch of “Home Alone 2” and “Malcolm X” will be a test of whether “Dracula” is a film for the ages or the flavor of the weekend and just how much the market can expand in a recession to accommodate several major films.

If the past weekend was any indication, there is underlying strength at the box office. Second weekend on Warner’s thriller “Passenger 57” fell only about 30% to $ 7.2 million and Warner’s long-running actioner “Under Siege” took a 33% hit to a still-burly $ 3.8 million. WB’s mayhem duet have grossed about $ 21 million and $ 65 million, respectively.

Columbia’s other wide release, “A River Runs Through It,” withstood only an 18% drop to about $ 4.1 million on 1,062 screens, about $ 3,900 each. In three weeks of wide release, this surprise performer has caught close to $ 20 million and should gross at least $ 35 million before it’s through.

The “Aladdin” sneaks benefited Buena Vista’s “The Mighty Ducks,” which fell a meager 7% to about $ 3.7 million, which should lift this low-budget sleeper over the $ 40 million hump.

Even Fox’s “The Last of the Mohicans,” which has been in theaters for almost two months, dropped just 18% to $ 2.8 million this past weekend, which should bring it up to $ 63 million to date. The same studio’s 277-theater break of “Love Potion No. 9,” however, was no aphrodisiac with just $ 426,000 expected, a miserable $ 1,500 a screen.

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