'Kombat' battles to No. 1, 'Anastasia' strong in 2nd

It was an ambush! New Line’s “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” led the weekend box office charge with the company projecting $17.5 million for the frame.

The three-day span was rife with small surprises. In addition to “Kombat’s” better-than-expected potency, Fox’s animated “Anastasia” also stepped out stronger than initially anticipated. But both Paramount’s “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker” and Warner Bros.’ “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” performed at lower levels than industry tracking had forecast.

Overall B.O. was up a solid 12% from one week ago but off 7% from the comparable 1996 weekend, largely as a result of faster commercial erosion for holdover titles in the marketplace.

“Kombat” opening-day B.O. registered with close to $6 million and was expected to take a slight tumble on Saturday. However, it expanded 18%, out-distancing all comers. Also encouraging was that it was only off 25% from the original’s debut, rather than the industry norm drop of one-third.

Kasanoff ‘overwhelmed’

“I’m overwhelmed in box-office bliss,” said producer Larry Kasanoff. “This is an amazing franchise. I’m surprised others haven’t created a sci-fi martial arts picture. We’ve been able to spin it off into games, a TV series, a live stage tour. The sequel had to be carefully reinvented. It’s bigger but it also retains enough of the original’s elements to keep its fan base.”

“Annihilation” debuted in 2,140 theaters and posted a dynamic $8,180 average.

“Anastasia” entered the animated fray impressively in second spot with an estimated $15 million after its single-screen debut last week posted $140,000. The company’s first venture into Disney-dominated territory acquitted itself with distinction and should play at a level that justifies the division’s startup costs. The lost Romanov enlivened 2,480 theaters with a $6,050 average.

‘Rainmaker’ in third

On a slight down note, “The Rainmaker” slotted third with a generously reported $11 million. The legal thriller had been tracking first leading up to its preem and there was considerable heat on the pic following excellent sneaks and “thumbs up” reviews. Its average performance of $4,750 from 2,317 playdates will force the studio to lower the commercial bar a couple of notches.

Weekend business propelled the box office to roughly $93 million and pushed the year just over $5.4 billion. On track to finish at close to $6.2 billion, 1997 is currently running 7.5% ahead of last year’s record pace.

Last weekend’s topper, Universal’s “The Jackal,” dipped 41% to finish fourth with $9 million. It was neither a radical drop nor an extraordinary hold for the redo of the 1973 movie and novel. The film posted a 4,090 average at 2,202 cages to bring its 10-day cume to $28.5 million.

‘Mermaid’ swims to fifth

Disney’s “Little Mermaid” reissue added $5.8 million to bubble into fifth place. The 1989 vintage animated musical subsided 41% from last weekend’s relaunch for a $2,820 average at 2,057 ponds. It’s grossed $18.1 million in its second wave for a lifetime domestic cume of $102.4 million.

The week’s other wide debut, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” slotted sixth with $5.2 million on a limited wide release. Warner Bros. planted 824 playdates of the literary bestseller hoping it would take root and expand. The resulting $6,310 average certainly provides the ammunition for more upscale dates, but limits prospects in the country’s heartland.

The only major specialized debut was Fine Line’s “The Sweet Hereafter,” which was eyeing $45,000 from three venues in New York and L.A. The Cannes-prized drama has grossed roughly an additional $500,000 in its native Canada after four weeks.

‘Troopers’ still losing ground

TriStar’s “Starship Troopers” continued to lose ground, grossing $5 million to rank seventh. The past weekend registered a 50% drop, seriously jeopardizing what was perceived to have almost certain sequel appeal. The futuristic war pic mustered a $1,770 average at 2,822 outposts for a $46.6 million cume.

Gramercy’s “Bean” was eighth with $4.4 million. The diminutive dweeb shrank 45% for a $2,210 average at 1,991 stalkings. It’s grossed $37.5 million — more than enough for future film refills.

Warner Bros.’ sophomore session of “The Man Who Knew Too Little” diminished 35% to finish ninth with $3 million. The spy parody generated no more than a chuckles average of $1,470 from 2,039 assignments. Its 10-day cume is $8.6 million.

Rounding out the top 10 was Columbia’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” with $2.8 million. The studio had something additional to shout about as the teen horror pic passed “In & Out” to become the top fall grosser with a $64 million B.O.

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