Jolly B.O. tops ’92 holiday tree

Even the traditional pre-Christmas holiday doldrums couldn’t obscure the signals of a powerhouse Thanksgiving/Christmas season. With the exception of Buena Vista’s “The Distinguished Gentleman,” all the anticipated hits are performing up to snuff.

Despite stormy weather over much of the Northeast, the top 10 films outgrossed last year’s leaders by 12% with a handsome $ 54,288,926. That continues the pattern established in mid-November, with holiday ’92 running consistently ahead of the same period last year.

In fact, the season’s grosses are already $ 40 million ahead of last year’s holiday period at the same time, according to Daily Variety box office analyst A.D. Murphy. Based on that number and assuming comparable gains in the remaining four weeks, Murphy projects thatthis year’s tally will be at least $ 4.9 billion. Last year’s take was $ 4.8 billion.

At least five films are expected to top the $ 75 million gross level for the season: Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” Buena Vista’s “Aladdin,” Columbia/Castle Rock’s “A Few Good Men,” Warner Bros.’ “The Bodyguard” and Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

The first three films on the list have the potential to do twice that.

And there are still five remaining year-end national releases, of which at least one or two should join the holiday hit ranks. The only question is whether there’ll be enough expansion in attendance to accommodate two or more additional hot performers, not to mention enough good theaters.

More importantly, none of this year’s big-ticket movies was wildly expensive on the order of “Hook,” or “Die Hard 2” or “Far and Away.” That bodes well for the bottom line.

Studio foreign sales forces are eagerly licking their lips, since all five hits-to-date have killer overseas possibilities–and are owned worldwide by their distributors. “Bodyguard” has already taken off in its initial off-shore runs.

And “A Few Good Men” is about to break internationally. The $ 40 million, star-packed Rob Reiner film did not disappoint industry sages who dubbed it the most commercial production of the season, debuting with $ 15,517,468 on 1,925 screens — the best-ever December opening for a non-sequel. And that was in the face of horrendous weather conditions in several top East Coast markets. Barring any other natural calamity, “Men” will follow the gold brick road.

Second-place “Home Alone 2” is suffering from the seasonal distractions of shopping and Christmas parties, but has already crossed the $ 100 million threshold, thanks to an additional $ 8,300,556 in revenue over the weekend on 2, 300 screens. Thanks to this pint-size giant, Fox has moved right behind WB and BV in the market share sweepstakes.

Not far behind, in fourth place, is Buena Vista’s unstoppable “Aladdin” with $ 7,408,776. On 1,131 screens, “Aladdin” is, week by week, consistently outgrossing the studio’s 1991 animated money-printer “Beauty and the Beast.”

‘Aladdin’ expanding

It’ll be interesting to watch the two family films duke it out as “Aladdin” fans out to about 2,000 screens by Christmas (350 additional runs on Friday). With $ 50 million already banked, and two sensational holiday weekends ahead, “Aladdin’s”$ 100 million wish could come true soon.

“The Bodyguard” is outperforming the Scrooge types who said it would have a short shelf life. The $ 7,427,230 added more than the weekend, on 1,806 screens, represents only a 33% drop, bringing its total up to $ 51.3 million after 19 days. How close it will get to $ 100 million depends largely on how well it survives against the new arrivals, particularly Mel Gibson’s “Forever Young.”

BV’s “Distinguished Gentleman” might have given the studio a shot at snatching WB’s market-share title, but the film may not overcome its second-weekend 49% plunge to $ 5,434,855.

The modest $ 18.6 million collected in 10 days flies in the face of expectations for an Eddie Murphy comedy. At this clip, say insiders, the film may not do much better than $ 50 million. Why some of his core audience is sitting this one out is already a topic of industry discussion. Film reportedly is not as strong as expected in inner-city dates.

Disney’s other holiday release, “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” got off to a moderately good start of $ 5,010,109 on 2,075 screens — not bad, considering it’s the family-market Ross Perot, running against two major party candidates. But since Yule-themed films traditionally lose their luster soon after St. Nick’s annual chimney slide, this one only has three or so weekends of viability left.

‘X’ marks the slump

The only hope for Warners’ “Malcolm X” is that like many adult-themed films, it may resuscitate after Christmas. The loss of another 52% in business over the weekend produced only $ 1,819,072, for a total of $ 35.7 million to date. WB will have to struggle to hold on to enough large houses to maximize the impact. “Malcolm” is on 1,249 screens, but only bringing in $ 1,456 on each of them. And exhibitors have five new films from which to choose.

That goes double for “Dracula,” which has the advantage of its $ 30 million opening weekend and $ 78.1 million to date. Pic, on 566 fewer screens (down to 1 ,602), coughed up an enervated $ 1,605,595. Christmas vacation can’t come too soon for this vampire.

Industry sages are handicapping “Forever Young” to do $ 7 million or more in its opening sesh on the final pre-Christmas weekend.

Fox’s “Toys” and Paramount’s “Leap of Faith” should draw in Robin Williams and Steve Martin fans, respectively. But both will have their work cut out for them to do more than $ 6 million apiece, according to insiders. Their long-term chances are tied to reviews and, more importantly, word-of-mouth.

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