‘Groundhog’ clings to top

The box office “Groundhog” truly saw its shadow this past weekend, presaging six more weeks of winter weather. That’s good news for the burrowing rodent, but national figures were shrinking as fierce snowstorms hit much of the East Coast.

Columbia’s “Groundhog Day” emerged the weekend winner with a reported gross of $ 9,330,577. Second-weekend business for the Bill Murray deja vu comedy was 25% behind its debut for a $ 5,378 average.

However, even with the inclement weather, overall business jumped up by approximately 5% from the comparable weekend of 1992. This was partially a result of yet another wave of Oscar fever.

Traditionally the announcement of Oscar nominees has provided an immediate moviegoing boost. The difference this year was that the impetus expanded, rather than repositioned, audience selections.

Oscar hopefuls were a significant part of the vanguard. The five best picture nominees –“Scent of a Woman,””A Few Good Men,””Unforgiven,””Howards End” and “The Crying Game”– accounted for approximately 20% of weekend revenues with Miramax’s “The Crying Game” expanding its run to 735 to rank fourth with $ 5,210 ,415. The film also had the best averages of wide releases, with $ 7,089 per tear.

The concentration and focus on best picture nominees has obscured any benefit to contenders in other Oscar categories. Such hopefuls as “Love Field,””Chaplin” and “Lorenzo’s Oil” are rapidly disappearing. Miramax’s “Passion Fish” did receive a noticeable boost but should probably expand rapidly on its current 32 dates if it hopes to maximize on the nomination’s magic touch.

If Oscar stats appear impressive, consider that Buena Vista’s “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey”– ranked second with $ 6,593,201 — and the undiminished “Aladdin” together represented 19% of the marketplace. Both films have performed significantly better than expectations. So don’t expect Buena Vista to relinquish its commitment to family films.

Also performing well ahead of expectations was Universal’s opening of “Army of Darkness,” which cast a $ 4,424,535 shadow. The initial impression is that the genre piece is playing largely and quickly to aficionados. Nonetheless, it is playing.

The only other new title was Samuel Goldwyn Co.’s Cannes winner “Mac,” which opened in two Manhattan sites and grossed $ 26,597. Produced, directed and starring John Turturro, the working-class drama did not get off on the fast track.

The current zeitgeist, with rare exception, is decidedly high-brow and tender-hearted. Thrillers — good, bad and indifferent — have been a strong box office staple in first quarters of the past. And while “Sniper” had a potent debut, such recent entries as “The Vanishing” and “The Temp” proved as ethereal commercially as their titles unintentionally suggested.

Conversely, “Sommersby” without question and “Untamed Heart” possibly may be the bellwether for the promise of a new mood in the country.

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