Less proves more at B.O.

The motion picture industry’s gamble of scheduling fewer holiday releases this year in hopes of bigger grosses and enhanced profits seems to be paying off.

The $ 95,071,935 grossed by the top 10 films over the Thanksgiving weekend represents the best three-day box office period ever, bumping ahead of the previous record $ 93,294,008 for the June 23, 1989, weekend when “Batman” ruled the world.

A quintet of staggered openings before and around Thanksgiving have busted every existing holiday record. The astounding three-day tally for the top 10 films playing nationally was 41% better than the same weekend last year and 22% ahead of the previous record of $ 78,085,795 in 1989 when “Back to the Future II” led the pack.

The numbers tell only part of the story: Fox’s “Home Alone 2,” has grossed $ 74,199,946 in its first 10 days. Columbia’s “Dracula” has racked up $ 70,063,638 in 17 days.

Warner’s “Malcolm X” has become a mainstream hit with $ 26,877,774 in 12 days. Buena Vista’s “Aladdin” and WB’s “The Bodyguard” have captured $ 25,784, 522 and $ 24,402,567, respectively, in five days of national release.

But large receipts haven’t always signified large profits. And that’s the real news. In an era when only two in 10 films make back their production and marketing costs at the box office, all five of these films may be headed for the black in domestic theatrical.

Grosses in the initial weeks are substantial and percentages favor the studios (at least 70% of every ticket sold) early in the run. Barring unforeseen downturns, three of these movies are likely to exceed $ 100 million–“Dracula, “”Home Alone 2” and “Aladdin.”

Each of the films has, in its own way, been marketed as an event and given the space that kind of approach requires–without being sandwiched among a host of indifferent releases that siphon away business.

In addition, four of the five have huge potential merchandising cabooses attached to their box office engines. And the fifth film, “The Bodyguard” has a No. 1 pop single and, likely, a top-of-the-charts soundtrack to provide additional gold or platinum for Warners.

Even taking into account a sharp post-Thanksgiving drop-off, “Home Alone 2” should notch $ 100 million in the next week to 10 days. That would cover the $ 30 million budget and marketing costs.

Even if it doesn’t reach $ 200 million–which should be evident by the end of the year–a “Home Alone 3” is as much of a sure thing as exists nowadays, provided Macaulay Culkin’s voice doesn’t change.

The “Home Alone” profits will enrich the coffers of Fox and of writer/producer John Hughes (who reportedly took home northwards of $ 20 million from his participation on the original). “Aladdin” has no live actors and is fully financed by Disney, which will get the whole enchilada if the animated film nears or exceeds the bonanza that was “Beauty and the Beast.”

In its first five days on 1,131 screens, “Aladdin” is running ahead of “Beauty” by about $ 10 million. Weekend take of $ 19,289,073 was 58% better than “Beauty’s” beautiful $ 12.2 million first weekend.

The wondrously high $ 17,055 per screen weekend for “Aladdin” is in part due to grownups paying full admission at evening performances. Like “Beauty,” the new film won’t go into full-tilt release until Dec. 18 when it will about double its runs. By then, “Home Alone 2” should have lost some of its edge and the only kiddie competition will be BV’s own “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (Dec. 11). Disney insiders say “Aladdin” cost slightly more than “Beauty,” which Disney claims had a final cost of around $ 25 million–though competitors place “Beauty’s” cost more in the $ 35 million neighborhood and maybe higher.

Third-place finisher “The Bodyguard” proves that the industry should never underestimate the draw of a star–especially where the female audience is concerned. The Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston pairing created a romantic allure that seduced $ 16,611,793 on 1,717 screens over the weekend, just under $ 9,700 a screen.

Distaff attendance was strong in all age ranges, the studio reported. Saturday night receipts were up from Friday, indicating a solid date-night attendance. “Bodyguard”should have this niche to itself until muscled by in “A Few Good Men” (Dec. 11) and “Forever Young” (Dec. 18). By then, the film may have cleared most of its $ 30 million estimated production nut.

Columbia’s $ 42 million “Dracula” is well on its way to break-even status, helped by a $ 30.5 million opening weekend. Debuting ahead of the pack gave the film the kind of powerhouse start that helped it sustain a 51% second weekend drop and an additional 34% slide in its third weekend to a nonetheless solid $ 9 ,848,470 on 2,491 screens. The adddition of Wednesday/Thursday holiday business also softened the blow.

But the most interesting film of the new group is Warners’ “Malcolm X.” It certainly had enough free publicity, as much or more than the studio’s equally controversial “JFK.” Insiders were predicting limited upside potential because of the uncertainty of the subject matter’s mass-market appeal.

“Malcolm X” proved them wrong and tallied a heady second weekend gross of $ 8 ,561,890, only 13% off its opening. The Spike Lee epic amasssed almost $ 7,000 a screen and $ 27 million in 12 days.

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