Bant-up 4th makes B.O. history

The fireworks exploded over the long July 4th weekend and the figure that emerges from the smoke is $ 124.3 million. It’s a record: The biggest four-day weekend in the history of the cinema, topping the previous record by nearly $ 20 million.

It’s also the third-highest weekend gross, behind Thanksgiving ’92 (when “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” topped the charts) and the summer ’89 weekend when “Batman” opened. The latter two weekends covered a five-day period.

Contributing to the avalanche of dollars was the first-place finish of Paramount’s freshman “The Firm.” The thriller, based upon the John Grisham bestseller, cashed in to the tune of $ 32,476,785 for print averages of $ 13,572 . The Wednesday opener pulled in Monday morning with $ 45,554,727.

Also sort of new was Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” with a holiday weekend take of $ 9,018,121. The eighth reissue of the company’s first animated feature considerably bested its prior outing in 1987, when it did $ 7.5 million. In fact, apart from 1991’s relaunch of “101 Dalmatians,” it’s the company’s best animated revival in both gross and in its averages of $ 4,971.

The third new entry, Hollywood Pictures’ “Son-in-Law,” had a pretty decent $ 7,033,310 opening weekend. On another weekend it would have been considered outstanding business, but its $ 5,064 averages pale beside the big guns in the marketplace.

Scanning the chart reveals that the top four titles each did in excess of $ 10 million, which is impressive but not unique. There have been a couple of other instances during peak periods of the summer and at Thanksgiving and Memorial Day when this feat has been duplicated.

On the other hand, the top three films in the marketplace each had averages of better than $ 10,000. The number of previous occurrences of this type is exactly … none.

But that might only indicate the presence of a few very popular films. Looking farther afield shows that even the second-string films are playing well.

Simply put, the marketplace is finally expanding; films such as “The Firm” and “Sleepless in Seattle” are drawing in the infrequent moviegoer. The market expands when that particular component of the audience goes out, has a satisfying experience, and decides to do it again.

These pictures are invaluable because they have the ability to stimulate the moviegoing experience. Most films simply don’t have that capacity. Most films appeal to a particular niche of frequent film patrons. Sometimes it’s the whole spectrum of movie maniacs, but more often it’s a segment: fans of comedies or family pictures or specialized art product.

Certainly if studios knew what projects would have popular appeal and attract new customers, more of these films would be made. The fact that there are two simultaneously is extraordinary, and might be the very thing to propel summer 1993 to the biggest summer record.

Insurance policy? We all know that sneak previews can be a very effective way of getting the word out on a picture in need of “help.” That clearly was the case for TriStar’s “Sleepless in Seattle.”

So why, industry people are asking, did Columbia choose to sneak “In the Line of Fire”? The Clint Eastwood thriller is tracking like a son of a gun, and by all accounts needs no prodding to open big next weekend.

While some conventional wisdom applauds such a sneak as a way to build audience momentum, one industry wag dismissed it, saying it’s like putting a $ 2 bet on a sure winner.

This was so obvious that Castle Rock exex, the film’s producers, reportedly lowered the boom, and Columbia rolled back last Saturday sneaks with “Last Action Hero” from 1,100 theaters to fewer than 600. A company spokesman said the previews did not hurt the picture, and may have told marketing “something” about its mass audience appeal.

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