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Summer B.O.: hot, hot, hot

It was a red-hot weekend at the box office, as the combined gross busted past $ 100 million for the biggest non-holiday total ever. The combination of strong new entries and spirited continuing runs accounted for a 39% increase in business from the comparable weekend of 1992.

In addition to besting the June 23, 1989, weekend of $ 96.8 million, this weekend’s revenues have pushed the summer box office to $ 1 billion — 15% better than it was a year earlier and 2% ahead of the record 1989 summer.

Once again, Paramount’s “The Firm” led the pack, with a resilient $ 18.5 million. It was a close call for second as Universal’s “Jurassic Park,” with $ 15.5 million, snouted ahead of Columbia/Castle Rock’s debuting “In the Line of Fire,” with $ 15.4 million. Fox’s “Rookie of the Year” earned its title with a very strong $ 8.9 million, but TriStar’s “Weekend at Bernie’s II” failed to click, with a dull $ 4 million opening.

“The Firm,” consolidating its top slot, held well in its second weekend, slipping 26% from its holiday weekend launch. Averaging $ 7,740 from 2,391 prints, the Tom Cruise thriller has collected $ 74.3 million in 12 days.

“Jurassic Park” continued to be dino-mighty, with revenues of $ 15.5 million to clinch second. Down 18% for the frame, it chomped up averages of $ 6,030 from 2,572 extant locales. That brings its cume, after five weekends, to $ 236.6 million, and ranks it as the seventh-biggest all-time grosser.

As with all B.O. behemoths, “Jurassic’s” strength is due in part to repeat business. Recent studio tracking showed that 15% of its audience had seen the film more than once. However, among young males, that figure jumped to 30%, with 11% having seen it more than twice.

Columbia/Castle Rock’s debut of “In the Line of Fire” emerged from the smoke third, with $ 15.4 million. The Clint Eastwood thriller, with 1,903 playdates, was cause for celebration at the studio, as it racked up the weekend’s highest per-screen average, $ 8,090. It was the biggest opening for an Eastwood film, surpassing the $ 15 million weekend launch of “Unforgiven.”

“It’s consistently played well through previews and sneaks, so we always knew this was a picture people would like,” said Castle Rock partner Martin Shafer. “The opening is excellent and confirms our belief that it’s very satisfying for an audience and will play well all summer long.”

Conflicting predictions

Box office reporting on “Jurassic,””Line of Fire” and, to a smaller extent, “The Firm,” had some industryites’ eyebrows raised. While the consensus was that “Park” was ahead of “Fire,” other tracking sources predicted significantly lower totals for all of the top three. Estimates for the two pictures from non-studio sources peg “Jurassic” at $ 15 million and “Line of Fire” at $ 14.6 million.

“This is not about accurate reporting, it’s about positioning,” said one source. “Columbia and Universal are checking each other out, listening to rumors and responding with impossible figures.”

Questioning centered on Sunday numbers. Col’s estimate, for instance, was comparable to “Fire’s” opening day, deemed unlikely by those polled.

“We have every right to be optimistic about Sunday,” said a Columbia spokesman. “If we’re wrong, it will be reflected when we report official figures on Monday.”

Nice niche for TriStar

TriStar’s “Sleepless in Seattle” awakened $ 10.4 million to finish fourth for the weekend, dipping just 14% from a week earlier. The romantic comedy, with averages of $ 6,410 from 1,622 sites, is benefiting greatly from its unique audience niche — clearly the best piece of counterprogramming this season. Its cume has risen to $ 59.3 million.

Fox’s “Rookie of the Year” connected its first time at bat and sailed out in fifth with $ 8.9 million. The warm yarn of a 12-year-old with an ace pitching arm scored averages of $ 6,100 from 1,460 ballparks. The Wednesday opener has an earned box office of $ 12.3 million to date.

Perennial pleaser

Buena Vista’s reissue of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was sixth, with about $ 6.2 million. The evergreen animated tale is shaping up as a big winner, off a mere 7% from last week’s launch. With averages of $ 3,390 from 1,831 magic castles, it has a 10-day cume of $ 18.8 million.

Warner Bros.’ “Dennis the Menace” took a clean bead at the box office and hit seventh with $ 5.6 million. The precocious tot slipped 26% this weekend for averages of $ 2,690 from 2,085 playdates. To date it’s grossed $ 35.6 million.

Hollywood Pictures’ “Son-in-Law” was being accepted into the fold with $ 4.9 million and eighth position. With a modest 7% drop, the comedy was averaging $ 3 ,480 from 1,406 engagements, bringing its cume to $ 14.9 million.

Sneaks popular

Both Disney and Warner Bros. titles got a boost this weekend from sneak peeks of, respectively, “Hocus Pocus,” starring Bette Midler, and the potential sleeper “Free Willy.””Hocus Pocus” got about 800 Saturday evening and Sunday matinee shots, with enthusiastic audience response.

A studio spokeswoman said “good” and “very good” ratings ran about 80%.

“Free Willy” went the same route, with comparable results. However, Warner Bros. distribution chief Barry Reardon noted that this week’s sneaks indicated a greater percentage of over-25s in the audience.

TriStar’s “Weekend at Bernie’s II” saw the franchise in need of “death support” as it opened ninth with $ 4 million. A company spokesman admitted “disappointment” with its debut. It averaged $ 3,000 on 1,332 screens.

Touchstone’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” saw its legs less shapely by 22% to finish 10th with $ 3.3 million. The Tina Turner bio-pic was nice and easy with $ 3,180 averages from 1,038 pop stands. To date it’s earned $ 26.8 million.

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