Public waxes ‘Poetic’

The interesting contrast to be made from this weekend’s box office tussle was that Columbia successfully opened “Poetic Justice” while Paramount failed to interest mass quantities of viewers to see its “Coneheads.”

“Poetic Justice” debuted with 1,273 playdates and emerged after three days as the top box office draw with $ 11,728,455. The urban romantic-drama starring Janet Jackson was a potent attraction with an average of $ 9,213. It was the third consecutive July in which the studio successfully released a black drama to buoyant business. The company had similar success last summer with “Mo’ Money” and the year before with Singleton’s “Boyz N the Hood.”

On the plus side

“Coneheads,” which opened to $ 7,100,501, had a long list of pluses. It had a clever marketing campaign and tracking showed that the recognition factor was enormous. This was a project spurred on by the hit “Wayne’s World,” and exhibitors assumed it would click. The film snapped up 1,978 dates, but neither love nor money could draw an audience. The film was sixth, averaging $ 3,590.

And just to keep life interesting, “Another Stakeout” from Touchstone preemed in ninth place with $ 5,418,316. The film had an OK average of $ 4,572. However, unlike the other new entries, it actually performed on a daily basis in the traditional manner of successful movies. That is, it seemed to benefit from Friday business with a significant boost in Saturday attendance. “Coneheads,” in comparison, was virtually flat for the two days and “Poetic” saw its revenues decline by some 10%.

To add to the irony, “Stakeout” was only able to secure 1,185 theaters. Some insiders speculate it could have made as much as $ 2 million more in its first three days if it had been on more screens.

The other new film in the marketplace was Fine Line’s three-screen launch of the American indie drama “Amongst Friends.” It grossed a respectable $ 28,345.

The other major news was not directly related to grosses. It centered on Cineplex-Odeon’s decision not to play “Poetic Justice” at its Universal City location. A spokesman for the company cited fears of losing the “family atmosphere” in the adjacent CityWalk.

Monday C-O president Allan Karp issued a statement about the company’s responsibility to its patrons’ safety. “The issue was not one of race, color or creed,” he said, and noted the violence that occurred at the location when it debuted “Boyz N the Hood” there two years ago.”

There seems to be little doubt that the fear of violence, rather than its likelihood, is palpable on the hill. The random movie-related incidents in the past decade pale when put beside crowd response after, for instance, the National Hockey League finals.

“People only resort to violence who are predisposed to it,” said Bobbie Eisenstock, an expert on the subject who teaches mass communications at Cal State Northridge. “Violence at something like a film screening has to do with a lot of things. It’s a combination of the political climate, the content of the film and the heat of the moment. You’re dealing with the unpredictable and the unlikely.”

Fox exec veep Tom Sherak noted that the normal path of concern begins with the police approaching local theaters, who then contact the distributor. When prevention is warranted, every major will arrange for security to be hired to stave off possible trouble.

Fox anticipates a couple of situations of that ilk with “Rising Sun,” which opens Friday. However, Sherak expects no more than informational pickets over the movie’s depiction of Japanese.

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