‘Good Men’ great with $16 mil bow

“A Few Good Men” commandeered a few million good men and women to hit the beach running with an estimated $ 16 million debut on 1,925 screens–making it the biggest December opening except for last year’s “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

The Castle Rock/Columbia production took in more than $ 8,000 a screen on one of the year’s slowest weekends and without the help of the country’s storm-battered Eastern corridor.

Less sanguine was the weekend’s other opening, Buena Vista’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” which stumbled into $ 4.8 million on 2,075 screens.

Major markets like New York, Boston and D.C. were walloped Friday by hurricane-force storms. And north of the border, other population centers such as Toronto were wet-blanketed by white precipitation.

Warner Bros.’ distribution chief Barry Reardon calculates the loss in gross revenues for the leading films on both Friday and Saturday was about $ 4 million , almost half of which would have gone to “Men.”

Overall, business was stoic enough to withstand the discontent of the winter winds. The top 10 films should gross around $ 54 million, between 10% and 13% ahead of last year and just slightly off from last weekend.

The big “Men” opening was less a surprise than a foregone conclusion. The addition of a fifth probable major holiday grosser was welcome news throughout the good-business-begets-good-business industry.

Castle Rock principal Martin Shafer and Columbia chairman Mark Canton both affirmed the Rob Reiner film’s potent demographics. Audience was almost equally male and female, 50% under 30 years of age and 50% over–although Shafer says 21 – to 29-year-olds comprised the biggest bulge, a full 40% of all ticket buyers. With a 96% good/excellent exit rating and an 86% definite recommend, the legs on this one should be tempered steel.

“Men” did almost twice as well as the kid, Macaulay Culkin. “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” dipped more than 30% to about $ 8.2 million in its fourth weekend. That was enough for the sequel to skip over the $ 100 million mark in its 24th day of release, running ahead of its predecessor by nine days. “Home” will sit tight and wait for Christmas recess.

But Culkin will get a run for the money from BV’s “Aladdin,” which also had a 30% or more decline to about $ 7.3 million on 1,131 screens, surpassing the $ 50 million plateau in the process. Over the coming weekend, “Aladdin” will expand to about 2,000 screens and gobble its way toward $ 100 million.

That’s the good news for Buena Vista. The bad news is the approximately 45%- 50% drop in second-weekend business for “The Distinguished Gentleman.” Despite BV’s continued heavy ad support for the Eddie Murphy comedy, grosses nosedived almost 50% to the $ 5.5 million area.

The $ 19 million or so the film has bagged in 10 days is not bad, except when you factor in the Murphy quotient.

The studio’s third holiday release, “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” didn’t help matters either, possibly being the one-family-film-too-many for the season. It should recover a bit as the holidays approach. But the big bucks for “Muppet” will come via video.

Warners’ “The Bodyguard” got a code red from “Men” and was diminished about 35% to 38%. Nonetheless, with another $ 7 million or so for the weekend, the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston concoction has topped $ 50 million.

Mel Gibson rides into town Friday with “Forever Young,” which will siphon away more of the female and date-night audience. But “Bodyguard” has been such a surprisingly strong performer that it should keep adding to its already impressive totals throughout the holidays.

More troubling was the more than 50% drop for “Malcolm X,” which should do about $ 1.7 million for the weekend on 1,249 screens, or about $ 35 million to date. Again, the holidays should stay the decline somewhat, but after a stellar start, it’ll need all the kudos and award citations it can get to hold on to theaters.

Ditto Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” which once again fell more than 50% to $ 1.6 million on 1,602 screens. The $ 100 million level seems to be getting further away rather than closer with each passing week. With $ 78 million collected, however, it’s already in the plus column for the season. And each additional dollar will enhance its stature in cable, video and foreign.

Besides “Forever Young,” industry observers will be eyeing two other national releases for the coming weekend. Paramount’s “Leap of Faith” will try to buck the odds as the season’s underdog, but insiders say its chances demand that the film’s title be taken literally. Fox’s oddity “Toys” has Robin Williams as a draw for starters, but long-term prospects are a large question mark at this point.

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