The total domestic box office for 1992 approached the record levels of 1989 and 1990, not surprising, since last year’s top three films were sequels to top-grossing pix of ’89 and ’90. Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” and Warner Bros.’ “Batman Returns” and “Lethal Weapon 3″ took the honors.

Of the three, only “Batman Returns,” with its sumptuous art design and special effects, had a big budget (estimated to be as much as $ 80 million). “Home 2″ had a moderate negative cost of $ 28 million and “Weapon 3″ clocked in at $ 35 million.

“Batman Returns” grossed $ 163 million from its June bow through year’s end and paid back rentals (the share of the gross paid back to the distributor) of $ 100.1 million to WB; the ’89 original’s numbers were $ 250.7 million/$ 150.5 million.

“Home 2,” a November release, grossed about $ 110 million in just five weeks; its rentals should come in at well over $ 100 million by the time the film has played out theatrically. (The 1990 film grossed $ 281.5 million and had rentals of $ 140 million.)

After those three, the rest of the top 10 rentals field was as follows: “Lethal Weapon 3,” ($ 80 million); Touchstone’s “Sister Act” ($ 62.4 million); Disney’s “Aladdin” ($ 60 million, with more to come); Columbia’s “A Few Good Men” (more than $ 50 million, more to come); Paramount’s “Wayne’s World” ($ 54 million); Columbia’s “A League of Their Own” ($ 53.1 million); TriStar’s “Basic Instinct” ($ 53 million); and Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” ($ 47.2 million , more to come).

WB’s “The Bodyguard,” which bowed in November, had rentals of $ 45 million by year’s end. While sequels scored best, the year saw a healthy mix of strong new pix, including comedies (“Sister Act,””Wayne’s World,””White Men Can’t Jump”), actioners (“Unlawful Entry,””Under Siege”), thrillers (“Basic Instinct,””The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,””Patriot Games”) and period dramas/actioners (“Unforgiven,””The Last of the Mohicans,””Far and Away”).

For the third straight year, New Line was the independent distrib with the highest-earning release, albeit considerably down the list. “The Lawnmower Man” was the 47th best rentals earner of the year with $ 13.6 million.

The top art-house attraction was Merchant Ivory Prods.’ E.M. Forster adaptation “Howards End,” which was released by Sony Pictures Classics and so far has tallied rentals of $ 9 million.

Oscar-winning Italian pic “Mediterraneo” was the year’s top non-English film, with rentals of $ 2 million.

In a year when Hollywood was chastised by the White House for eschewing “family values,” distribs offered much family product.

In addition to “Beauty and the Beast,” various animated releases geared to children ranged from “Aladdin” to Fox’s “FernGully… The Last Rainforest” (rentals of $ 10 million), Goldwyn’s “Rock-a-Doodle” ($ 5 million) and Par’s “Bebe’s Kids” ($ 4 million).

That’s not to mention Disney’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol” ($ 13 million and counting) or its reissues of “Pinocchio” and “The Great Mouse Detective.” Also released were live-action hits “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” (Disney, $ 27.4 million) and “Beethoven” (U, $ 26.4 million).

On the flip side, for every “Under Siege” ($ 33 million) and “Trespass” (Universal, $ 14 million), there was a “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” (New Line , $ 1.7 million) and a “Husbands and Wives” (TriStar, $ 5 million).

“Husbands and Wives” opened just as the rancorous custody battles erupted between the film’s creator Woody Allen and co-star Mia Farrow; despite the publicity, film did not do well for Allen’s new distrib TriStar; neither was his Orion swan song, “Shadows and Fog” ($ 1.2 million), a happy event.

Allen wasn’t the only big name to stumble in ’92. Ron Howard’s “Far and Away” (Universal) tallied rentals of $ 28.9 million, but its budget was far beyond that.

The Eddie Murphypic “Boomerang” billed $ 34 million, a disappointment considering its over-$ 40 million cost. (Murphy’s “The Distinguished Gentleman” appears to be on a higher track.)

Universal’s effects-heavy, star-filled “Death Becomes Her” earned rentals of $ 30.4 million, also slim when compared to its husky budget. Ditto the Disney release “Medicine Man,” which billed $ 20.9 million.

Other films with promising names either behind or in front of the camera that nevertheless bombed include “Hero,””Freejack,””Shining Through,””Memoirs of an Invisible Man,””Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot,””Noises Off,””Passed Away,””Folks, “”K2,””Criss Cross,””A Stranger Among Us,””Man Trouble,””Raising Cain, “”Diggstown” and “Mr. Baseball.”

But perhaps the year’s most conspicuous failures were the two films made to coincide with the quincentennial of Columbus’ arrival in the New World.

The Ridley Scott-directed “1492: Conquest of Paradise,” starring Gerard Depardieu, earned rentals of $ 3.4 million for Paramount. The Salkinds’ “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery,” helmed by James Bond vet John Glen and with unknown George Corraface in the lead role, brought back $ 3.3 million for WB. (Overseas, Scott did significantly better.)

Several recent releases will go on to make money next year, such as Col’s “A Few Good Men” and U’s “Scent of a Woman,” Fox’s “Hoffa” and TriStar’s “Chaplin,” now in limited release.

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