Dense Market Squeezes Out Smaller Pix

The good news for the Martin Luther King holiday span was a record box office of about $105.5 million. That amounted to 25% better than last year’s shaky frame and 18% ahead of the prior pace setter in 1992.

What’s somewhat disturbing is the increased number of pictures fighting for viewer dollars. The situation has created a marketplace of “haves” and “have nots,” in which it’s rare to find anyone from the middle class.

This week’s elite provided Sony skies over in Culver City, as TriStar’s “Legends of the Fall” and Columbia’s “Higher Learning” posted $16.7 million and $15 million, respectively, to top the B.O. charts.

“Legends” and Paramount’s “Nobody’s Fool” were in expansion modes, growing from top market exclusives to national exposure. A year ago, TriStar successfully used the strategy for “Philadelphia,” which went on to a worldwide gross of more than $200 million.

The current prestige titles needed to reach an audience over the holiday period to bolster Oscar chances which, in turn, will be a commercial asset in February and March.

“Fool’s” $8.7 million week was impressive.

Historically, films that appeal to an older audience open to midrange business and grow on word-of-mouth. That was the case for “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” which preemed with $5 million weekends after their exclusive runs. Tracking had suggested a comparable gross for the Paul Newman starrer.

Paramount distribution president Barry London confirmed that about 60% of the audience the past weekend was in the older demographic of 35-plus.

There was also upbeat news for Universal’s “Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight,” which was third with an $11 million gross.

“Knight,” and more precisely, “Crypt”-inspired tales, were viewed by the studio as a potential series with bigscreen episodes produced on comparatively modest budgets of $10 million$15 million. Based on the opening frame, execs sense that there’s lots more gold to be dug out.

Meanwhile, Fox’s “Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog” nosed into 10th with $4.7 million. On the heels of holiday family films, box office indicated it may have been ill-advised to open the tale of a boy and his dog in jeopardy, which proved accurate.

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