‘Gentleman’s’ not ‘Alone’

Eddie’s back, but a kid, a cartoon character and a bodyguard stole some of his thunder.

The strong $ 11.1 million to $ 11.5 million estimated debut of Buena Vista’s “The Distinguished Gentleman” places the new Eddie Murphy comedy among a quartet of films expected to gross in excess of $ 10 million for the weekend– unparalleled for a three-day weekend and perhaps even a four-day weekend.

And the strong business is all the more auspicious considering that it occurred at the onset of the traditional post-Thanksgiving box office lull, with this weekend’s top-10 business declining about 40% or so from the previous session. Friday brings more good news with the opening of one of the season’s most anticipated films, Columbia’s “A Few Good Men,” which is expected to be an additional major audience enticement.

The top four films ran fairly closely in ticket sales–between $ 10.4 million and $ 12.5 million. Combined with the six also-rans, the top 10 national releases should garner a hefty $ 57 million or so for the three days, better than any of the three best post-Thanksgiving weekends from 1989 to 1991.

The box office edge goes to Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” which should remain in the No. 1 position, despite an anticipated 56% drop from the record Thanksgiving weekend. The additional $ 12 million or thereabouts banked by Macaulay Culkin in his third mischievous weekend should propel the powerhouse sequel to the $ 90 million cume level after just 17 days.

The big surprise was Warner Bros.’ “The Bodyguard,” which is battling “Gentleman” for second place with between $ 11 million and $ 11.5 million. With only a 32% drop from Thanksgiving (most films dropped 50% or more), this one is confounding initial prognostications that it would open strong and do a fast fade.

The synergistic performance of the film’s soundtrack and single, both of which bulleted to the top of the charts, have given this bodyguard lots of box office ammo. A $ 40 million take in 12 days of release adds luster to Costner’s already shining star status.

While $ 11 million is nothing to be ashamed of, “Gentleman” had a less distinguished opening than other recent Murphy efforts, such as last summer’s “Boomerang” ($ 13.6 million over the Fourth of July weekend), 1990’s “Another 48 Hours” ($ 19.5 million in June 1990) and 1989’s “Harlem Nights” ($ 16.1 million in November 1989).

But it’s tracking pretty much as Disney predicted, says the film’s producer Leonard Goldberg–especially considering the powerhouse trio of holdover films. Industry insiders had predicted a debut more in the $ 13 million to $ 15 million range because of the Murphy draw.

Still, the consensus is that as the only adult comedy in the market and with good reviews for Murphy’s work, “Gentleman” should be among the holidays’ more consistent performers.

In a league of its own is BV’s other release, “Aladdin,” which will take in anywhere from $ 10 million to $ 10.7 million, depending on the strength of Sunday business, on just over 1,100 screens–almost 700 fewer prints than the top three films. With close to $ 40 million to date and with its big 2,000 -theater Christmas break still ahead, the sky’s the limit on this one.

Warners’ “Malcolm X” is estimated to have fallen 56% to $ 3.75 million over the weekend, taking it over the $ 30 million hump.

Losing theaters and falling even farther is Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula ,” which plummeted 64% to an estimated $ 3.5 million and has sucked in about $ 75 million to date.

The bottom four films also are showing signs of post-holiday fatigue, declining 50% or more: Warners’ “Passenger 57” should cruise at about the $ 1.7 million altitude and Columbia’s “A River Runs Through It” flowed past $ 30 million with the help of another $ 1.5 million ripple over the past weekend.

WB’s “Under Siege” torpedoed another $ 1.1 million for the three days as it blasts its way ever closer to $ 75 million. And Fox’s “The Last of the Mohicans” is uttering its last gasps with about $ 700,000 and should soon clear $ 70 million.

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