Holiday B.O. forecast cloudy

Every silver lining has a cloud. And as Christmas nears, there’s some darkening in the heretofore clear holiday box office skies.

Except for “A Few Good Men,” which is once again the No. 1 film, the major hits of the Thanksgiving/Christmas period seem to have been front-loaded in November.

That provided a major boost to the early part of the season, but expectations for a record holiday may be dampened by the absence of a top-flight Christmas newcomer. Only two national releases remain: Fox’s “Hoffa” and Universal’s “Trespass,” both expected to have somewhat limited appeal — almost exclusively male.

So, while every weekend since mid-November has been consistently running better than 10% ahead of the comparable 1991 period, the less-than-luminous openings of “Forever Young,””Leap of Faith” and “Toys” meant this past weekend was only up 5% from last year.

More ominously, top 10 total of $ 53,340,937 was below the previous weekend at a time when business normally swings up slightly in anticipation of the holiday.

The main reason for the glitch was the moderate-to-disappointing opening of three star vehicles. Warners’ “Forever Young” did best, but didn’t break with the same impact as “Men.”

On 1,710 screens, the Mel Gibson romance defrosted $ 5,609,875 for a mediocre per-screen average of $ 3,281 and $ 6.9 million in five days. Still, if any new film has a chance of going north for the holidays it’s this one.

Fox’s “Toys” could have a brief period of sunshine during the lucrative Dec. 25-Jan. 4 period. First weekend results for the Robin Williams comedy were not exactly playful, however–only $ 4,810,027 on 1,272 screens, less than $ 3,800 a screen.

Paramount’s “Leap of Faith” didn’t score many conversions either, with $ 3, 222,768 on 1,554 screens, $ 2,074 per. Barring a miracle, the tent will fold fairly fast on this Steve Martin drama.

But the Christmas rush expected to commence on Friday afternoon will definitely benefit the current box office leaders, which have to shoulder most of the burden in trying to equal last year’s $ 85.3 million Christmas weekend.

Thanks to strong Sunday business–indicating that the holiday lull is just about over–Columbia/Castle Rock’s “A Few Good Men” was able to salute $ 11,145, 377 on 1,925 screens, only a 28% drop. With a 10-day total of $ 32 million, and a commanding $ 5,790 per screen, “Men” has only one serious rival for the top slot throughout the holidays.

But that rival is a formidable one. Buena Vista’s “Aladdin” is showing remarkable resilience, climbing to the No. 2 position after adding 371 screens (up to 1,502).

As a result, the animated blockbuster dropped a paltry 2%, flying to $ 7,224, 900. The addition of another 500 screens and the availability of a country full of children should send it soaring next weekend, adding mightily to its already sensational $ 59.75 million total to date.

The season’s other megahit, “Home Alone 2” has already gathered $ 110 million and shows no sign of flagging. Fifth weekend was down only 18% to $ 6,811,119 on 2,354 screens. Again, the film will add sizably to that total this coming weekend and right through to Jan. 4. It’s already the year’s sixth largest grosser and should usurp the 1992 leader, “Batman Returns” ($ 165 million), before it’s through.

Before its swan song, the unstoppable “The Bodyguard” will easily do $ 80 million to $ 90 million or better, based on its shapely legs. Fourth weekend was off only 27% to a still-stout $ 5,433,899 on 1,806 screens — especially good considering that Kevin Costner is getting plenty of competition from Tom Cruise (“Men”) and Gibson. Total to date is $ 59.3 million.

“The Muppet Christmas Carol” may not have opened terribly strong, but is fighting the good holiday fight with only a 19% second weekend drop to $ 4,070, 823 on 2,084 screens and $ 10.45 million in its first 10 days. The film should easily double that sum before the last yulelog is burned.

But BV’s hoped-for big comedy of the season, “The Distinguished Gentleman,” is not distinguishing itself. The $ 24 million gathered in 17 days is way below what was expected of an Eddie Murphy film. Past weekend slipped another 32% to $ 3,714,862.

Having started fast out of the gate, “Malcolm X” and “Dracula” are fading rapidly, although the lack of stalwart new competitors could help both sustain with the adult audience once the holidays hit. “Malcolm” talked its way to another $ 1,297,197 million — a 29% decline on 1,202 screens, bringing its total to almost $ 38 million.

And it no longer seems as if “Dracula” has enough blood in it to crack $ 100 million, since it’s just under $ 80 million and only added $ 1,020,494 on 1,205 screens over the weekend. Holidays should add to that total, but probably a pint or two short of the additional $ 20 million required.

Among the up-and-comers is Fox/Largo’s “Used People,” which had an encouraging $ 51,955 weekend debut on two screens and $ 73,274 in five days. National break doesn’t come until after the New Year.

Surprise indie holiday hit is the highly praised Miramax drama “The Crying Game,” which burst into 88 houses over the weekend and claimed $ 601,112, with a total so far of $ 1.2 million. That makes it the best non-studio performer since Miramax’s “Enchanted April,” which has grossed $ 11.4 million to date, and New Line’s “Glengarry Glenn Ross” with $ 10.2 million.

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