B.O. scares up a record in October

October box office rang up a record gross of $381.6 million, surpassing the prior domestic pinnacle for the period, set in 1995, by 3%. Rebounding from the doldrums of 1996 — when virtually the only strong player was “The First Wives Club” — business climbed by 13%, with such titles as “Kiss the Girls” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” proving unexpectedly potent and leggy.

The frame marked a dramatic turnaround from last year, when title after title fizzled in the marketplace. While holdover biz was merely tepid, there were enough strong openers and sustainers to keep exhibitors happy.

Admissions also outdistanced last year by a solid 11%, but fell short of establishing a new benchmark. Ticket sales lagged 5% behind 1993’s level of 88 million, coming in at 83.6 million.

Sony edged out Paramount for the month’s market share crown, posting an overall gross of $86.8 million to sprint in front by 1.6%. However, Par had the top performer, with “Kiss the Girls” racking up the biggest gross during the 31-day frame.

Despite strong opening salvos each weekend, the sheer volume of releases has meant an unusually high number of fast fades. Among the instant casualties were “Playing God,” “A Life Less Ordinary,” “Most Wanted” and “Gang Related.”

With the trend toward a sated October schedule, specialized and niche fare continues to lose ground in what used to be a major seasonal stronghold. With the exception of Fox Searchlight’s “The Full Monty,” which has been successfully expanded, only a couple of films have been potent in this arena, including Fox Searchlight’s “The Ice Storm” and Buena Vista’s “Washington Square.”

Other notable performances included New Line’s platform of the “Boogie Nights,” which was well primed for its first national break over the weekend, and Polygram Canada’s three-week advance play on “Bean,” which cracked the domestic top 10 on its debut weekend. Another seasonal stalwart was Warren Miller Entertainment’s ski madness pic “Snowriders 2,” which effectively continues the largely dormant indie practice of four-walling.

Following “Kiss the Girls,” October’s top grossers (in descending order) were: Sony’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” Warner Bros.’ “The Devil’s Advocate,” Sony’s “Seven Years in Tibet,” Paramount’s “In & Out,” Fox’s “Soul Food,” DreamWorks’ “The Peacemaker,” Warner Bros.’ “L.A. Confidential,” Fox’s “The Edge” and Buena Vista’s “RocketMan.”

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