'Maguire' B.O. backs up big-buck salaries

With the entry this weekend of TriStar’s box office champ “Jerry Maguire” to the holiday marketplace, four of Hollywood’s highest paid actors are now vying for theatergoers attention – and entertainment dollars.

In addition to Tom Cruise, whose “Maguire” bowed to $17.1 million, the faces of top earners Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson all are gracing screens in multiplexes across the country. In just over a week, another megastar enters the fray when Turner and New Line’s “Michael,” starring John Travolta, descends to earth on Christmas Day.

All five actors have been reported to command paydays in the vicinity of $20 million, although Schwarzenegger is known to take less for comedies – including the current “Jingle All the Way” – which he intersperses with his high body count action roles.

But in a year when the two top grossing films – “Independence Day” and “Twister” – were devoid of star power, and high-priced star-vehicles such as “The Cable Guy,” and “Last Man Standing” failed to ignite at the box office, the holiday season is shaping up to be yet another test of the drawing power of today’s leading men.

The conventional wisdom is that a big name actor can buy an opening weekend, but that after that, the film has to stand or fall on its entertainment value. So far, the results have been mixed: Buena Vista’s Mel Gibson starrer “Ransom” has proven to be solid hit, cuming $117.5 million after 38 days in release; and while its still early to predict a final figure, Cruise’s “Maguire” looks like the Christmas film to beat.

Gibson’s top grossers have been Warner Bros.’ 1989 “Lethal Weapon 2″ ($147.3 million); WB’s 1992 “Lethal Weapon 3″ ($144.7 million) and WB’s 1994 “Maverick” ($102.2 million).

Cruise has one of the best track records in the business, with 6 films surpassing the $100 million mark. Paramount’s “Top Gun” (1986) $176.8; MGM/UA’s “Rain Man” (1988) $172.8 million; Par’s “The Firm” (1993) 158.3 million; Columbia’s “A Few Good Men” (1992) $141.3 million; Warner Bros.’ “Interview With the Vampire” (1994) $105.3 million; and Par’s “Mission: Impossible,” the third highest grosser of this year at $181 million.

On the other hand, Universal’s Stallone-starrer, “Daylight,” opened to a decent $10 million, but collapsed in its second weekend. Off 59%, the tunnel disaster pic dug up only $4.1 million in its sophomore frame.

Stallone’s most recent hit was Carolco’s 1993 actioner “Cliffhanger,” which grossed $84 million in the U.S. and more than $200 million worldwide. Stallone hasn’t broken the $100 million mark domestically since 1985, when MGM/UA’s “Rocky IV” and TriStar’s “Rambo: First Blood Part II” earned $127.9 million and $150.4 million respectively.

Twentieth Century Fox’s family adventure “Jingle All the Way” is performing slightly better, having cumed $43.3 million in its first 24 days. Still, there’s almost no chance it will approach the success of such Schwarzenegger comedy hits as “Twins” – which grossed $112 million for Universal in 1988 – or U’s “Kindergarten Cop” – which collected $92 million in 1990. Schwarzenegger’s $100 million-plus action films include Carolco’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” ($208.8 million), Fox’s “True Lies” ($146.3 million). and Carolco’s “Total Recall” ($119.4 million).

Last summer, Twentieth Century Fox’s “Independence Day” and Warner Bros.’ “Twister,” grossed $305.9 million and $241.7 million respectively, demonstrating that enough special effects could compensate for a lack of big-ticket marquee monikers. But the big opening weekends of “Maguire” and “Ransom,” and the track records of stars such as Cruise, Schwarzenegger and Robin Williams show that names do count.

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