‘Con’ airborne at No. 1

BV pic's $25.5 mil tops dinos at $18.5 mil

Buena Vista’s “Con Air” jetted to a studio-estimated altitude of $25.5 million in its maiden flight, landing in the No. 1 spot for the weekend, while Universal’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” had to settle for second place with a still-powerful $18.5 million.

Despite the presence of those two high-flyers, however, the fledgling summer movie season continued to hit turbulence. As it has in two of the past three weekends, the overall box office once again dipped well below 1996 levels.

The weekend’s only other wide newcomer, Sony’s gorilla pic “Buddy,” scratched up just $3.7 million to swing into fourth place, while holdovers generally suffered steep declines.

‘Rock’ solid debut

“Con Air’s” solid debut was virtually identical to that of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Nicolas Cage’s previous collaboration, “The Rock,” which bowed to $25.1 million this time last year. “The Rock,” which held extremely well in its first few weeks of release, eventually grossed $134.1 million.

But while “The Rock” debuted in 2,392 theaters, giving it a $10,481 per-screen average, “Con Air” broke in 2,824 locations, for a slightly less-promising $9,030 average.

On the other hand, although “Con Air’s” audience skewed male by a 56% to 44% margin, exit polling showed its highest approval rating came from women, which could help the picture expand beyond its core young male audience. According to viewer surveys, 61% of audience members said they were attracted by the promise of the film’s action, while 56% lined up to see star Cage. But some argue that Bruckheimer himself has become something of a brand name, which audiences count on to deliver a consistent level of heart-pumping action fare.

The producer, who with his late partner Don Simpson was responsible for such hits as “Top Gun,” “Bad Boys,” “The Rock” and “Dangerous Minds,” has one of the best track records in recent movie history.

In sync with auds

“I make the pictures I want to go see, and right now it seems I’m in sync with audiences,” Bruckheimer told Daily Variety Sunday. “I guess I’m lucky in that way.”

On the other hand, the overall theatrical market appears to be slightly out of sync.

Business was off about 6% from the previous weekend and down 13% from the comparable frame last year, when “Twister,” “Mission: Impossible” and “The Rock” topped the charts. “Con Air” and “Lost World” accounted for 65% of the estimated $67.6 million total for films grossing $500,000 or more.

“Other than the two top films, business is in the toilet,” observed one distribution chief. Indeed, per-screen averages for the top 10 holdovers were all below $2,000.

One picture short

One reason for the poor performance compared with 1996 is that with distributors steering clear of “Lost World,” the market was left at least one major picture short of last year.

“What we’re missing is a ‘Twister’ that opens early and plays through,” said Chuck Vianne, BV senior VP and general sales manager. “One or two more pictures in early summer would have helped.”

Still, Vianne is optimistic that as more big pics open in the upcoming weekends, the summer will gain momentum. “I hope I’m not being Pollyana-ish, but based on the volume of ‘Lost World’ and ‘Con Air,’ I think we’re looking at one monster of a summer.”

“Con Air” ended “Lost World’s” two-week reign at No. 1. Down 45% from the previous weekend, the dino sequel grossed $18.5 million in 3,397 game parks for a $5,446 average. In just 17 days “Lost World” has grossed $171 million, making it the highest-grossing 1997 release. On Sunday it surpassed Universal’s own “Liar Liar,” which has taken in $168.5 to date.

‘Addicted’ at No. 3

The No. 3 film, Warner Bros.’ “Addicted to Love,” slipped 39% to $3.8 million. In 2,021 theaters, the Meg Ryan-Matthew Broderick romantic comedy averaged $1,880. Cume after 17 days is $26.4 million.

In fourth, “Buddy” earned its $3.7 million bananas in 2,113 trees for a listless $1,751 average.

Among limited releases, Triumph’s “Bliss” opened to $5,500 in 11 bedrooms for a $5,000 average.

Buena Vista’s sophomore “Gone Fishin’ ” sank 46% to $3.1 million. In 1,846 trips, the Danny Glover-Joe Pesci comedy pulled in $1,679 per cast. Cume is $10.6 million.

New Line’s “Trial and Error” was sentenced to sixth place with a 45% decline to $2.7 million in 2,298 courtrooms, or $1,175 per case. After 10 days, the Michael Richards-Jeff Daniels comedy has cumed just $9.2 million.

‘Austin Powers’ dips 24%

New Line’s “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” dipped just 24% to $2.4 million in 1,754 night spots for a $1,368 average. After six weeks, the sleeper hit has grossed a groovy $43 million.

Sony’s “The Fifth Element” plunged 45% to $2.2 million in 1,957 situations or $1,124 per theater. Cume after five weeks is $55.5 million.

Paramount’s “Breakdown” dropped 41% to pick up $1.9 million in 1,865 rest areas. Per screen average: $1,019; cume: $45.3 million.

Universal’s “Liar Liar” continued its unbelievable staying power, down just 25% to 1.2 million in 1,028 scenarios for a $1,167 average. Cume after 12 weeks is $168.5 million.

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