'Attacks!' crisp in second at $9.7 mil; "Wife' neglected

In case anyone needed convincing, Tom Cruise reaffirmed his stature as one of Hollywood’s most consistently bankable stars over the weekend, leading TriStar’s ”Jerry Maguire” to an estimated $17.5 million debut and notching up what looks to be his second hit of the year – after last summer’s ”Mission: Impossible” – and possibly breaking a yearlong slump for Sony.

The results of the weekend’s two other wide releases caught many observers by surprise, as Warner Bros.’ ”Mars Attacks!” overcame less-than-stellar reviews to land in second place with $9.7 million, while Buena Vista’s ”The Preacher’s Wife” finished fourth with an uninspiring $7.4 million. BV’s holdover ”101 Dalmatians” slipped to third place with $8.7 million.

Meanwhile, with Oscar campaign season in full swing, several much-touted specialized candidates are doing battle at the box office: among them, Fox’s ”The Crucible” which earned $75,000 on three screens, up 37% after adding one L.A. theater and expanding from one New York screen to two; Fine Line’s ”Shine,” which dipped 31% to $117,000 in 10 theaters, despite its being named best picture by the National Board of Review last week; and Miramax’s ”The English Patient” which slid 37% to $1.7 million in 683 hospital rooms for a still-healthy $2,489 average.

The solid opening of ”Maguire” is the perfect Christmas present for the newly reorganized Sony Pictures, which until now has gone hitless in 1996. Boasting the biggest bow for Sony since Columbia’s ”The Cable Guy” debuted at $19.8 million on June 14, the picture is all but certain to be Sony’s highest domestic grosser of the year.

The $17.5 million projection is notable during this normally listless post-Thanksgiving period: If Sony’s estimate holds, it will be the second-highest Christmas season debut ever, topped only by the $18.1 million initially racked up by ”Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” in December 1991. The Cruise starrer ”A Few Good Men” opened to $15.5 million on Dec. 11, 1992, eventually accumulating $141.3 million domestically.

”Maguire,” the well-reviewed Cameron Crowe-helmed romantic comedy, which stars Cruise as a sports agent suffering from a sudden bout of conscience, was represented in 2,531 negotiations for a robust $6,914 average.

”Mars Attacks!,” the Tim Burton directed sci-fi sendup, invaded 1,955 planets for a $4,962 average. ”The Preacher’s Wife,” director Penny Marshall’s remake of the 1947 holiday pic ”The Bishop’s Wife,” appeared in 1,783 parishes for a $4,150 per-screen.

Overturned expectations

A number of industry observers had expected the family Christmas fantasy ”The Preacher’s Wife,” which stars Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, to outperform Burton’s offbeat homage to the 1950s sci-fi genre.

Specialized opener ”Citizen Ruth,” Miramax’s abortion-themed social-satire starring Laura Dern, picked up a so-so $30,000 on six screens, or $5,000 per delivery.

Overall, business was brisk for the pre-vacation weekend, with total ticket sales for $500,000-plus grossers at around $64 million, up about 15% compared to this time last year.

But the presence of the three new wide releases took its toll on holdovers, with percentage drops ranging for top 10 pics ranging from 34% to 59%. The top four films – the newcomers plus ”Dalmatians” – accounted for nearly two-thirds of the weekend total.

After two weeks at No. 1, ”101 Dalmatians” dropped off 38% to $8.7 million in 2,841 kennels for a $3,062 average. Cume after 19 days is $75.4 million.

Universal’s ”Daylight” dimmed 59% to $4.1 million in 2,189 situations for a $1,873 average. After 10 days, the Stallone disaster pic has cumed $16.6 million.

The second division

Fox’s ”Jingle All the Way” fell 34% – the smallest percentage drop of all wide holdovers – to $3.7 million. In 2,301 theaters the Schwarzenegger family comedy averaged $1,608 per screen. Cume after 24 days is $43 million.

Par’s ”Star Trek: First Contact” lost 49% of its speed, slowing to $3.4 million. The sci-fi sequel orbited in 2,607 solar systems for a $1,304. Total to date is $76.7 million.

BV’s ”Ransom” made off with $2.8 million – a 49% drop – in 1,823 hideaways for a $1,536. Cume is $117.3 million.

WB’s ”Space Jam” tumbled 52% to $2.2 million in 2,232 contests for a $986 average. Cume after 31 days is $76.4 million.

Tenth place went to the ”The English Patient” at $1.7 million. After a month in release, the Anthony Minghella-helmed romance has cumed $16 million.

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