‘Outbreak’ Infects B.O.

“Outbreak” caught on at the box office, arriving with an $18.1 million bow.

The question is whether the Dustin Hoffman vehicle perked up biz or was brought down by general moviegoing malaise. The answer is probably a bit of both.

The Warner Bros, picture, which opened at 2,200-plus playdates with an $8,180 average, was on a breakneck production schedule to meet its release date. The print screened for a press junket two weeks ago and was still being tinkered with in the sound and color departments prior to final lab work. So the traditional Warner T.L.C. marketing was out the window and volume, of every sort, applied instead to get the public’s attention.

Certainly one major asset was being able to debut the film in the absence of competition.

The upside that “Outbreak” brings into the marketplace is difficult to quantify. Certainly its closest direct competition – TriStar’s “Hideaway” – took a 50% dive. But “Man of the House” and others were able to hold their own.

There was a time – not that long ago – when distribs could set up a test date in some secondary market and fly under the radar of a watchful media. TriStar probably would have preferred that the first buzz on “3 Ninjas Knuckle Up” was something other than test engagements in Houston, Dallas and Vancouver, where it grossed $144,600 for a pintsized $2,780 average.

Cineplex/Odeon unveiled the locally produced fest fave “Dance Me Outside” in English Canada and learned a few things that might be an assist for a U.S. distrib. Based on a W.P. Kinsella story, the story centers on a group of late teens living on an Indian reservation. The film opened with an OK $5,000 (Canadian) average.

But a closer look at its 15 engagements reveals that the film plays much better urban than suburban. It’s also attracting a younger crowd, and the very best dates are in centers with at least a significant native population.

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