‘G.I. Jane’ seals B.O. victory

Buena Vista’s “G.I. Jane” emerged the clear winner Monday over New Line’s “Money Talks” in a much-publicized shootout for the weekend box office title.

Both studios had predicted Sunday that their respective openers would finish the weekend at $11.1 million, but Buena Vista distribution president Phil Barlow accused New Line in the press of “misstating the grosses.”

On Monday BV reported a $11,094,241 final three-day tally for the Ridley Scott-helmed drama, which stars Demi Moore as a pioneering female Navy Seal.

However, New Line reported “Money Talks” at $10,654,369, almost $450,000 short of its Sunday estimate.

The news came as no surprise to most box office observers: All of the major studio distribution execs had predicted an easy win for “Jane.”

Barlow said Monday that he lamented what he considered a bad faith Sunday estimate by New Line, since the ensuing battle overshadowed the fact that both films had overcome major obstacles to open over the $10 million mark.

“They’ve got a picture that they marketed superbly and distributed brilliantly,” Barlow told Daily Variety. “They did a fabulous job, and the picture deserved accolades it will never get. It will always be the picture that New Line lied about.”

New Line’s insistence on top-dog status also obscured the fact that “Money Talks” opened nearly as well as “Jane” even though it was made and marketed for considerably less money.

But New Line distribution president Al Shapiro defended his projection: “What we’re talking about are estimates. My estimates were based on a normal Saturday to Sunday performance on black pictures.”

Continuing problem

Shapiro added that the problem was inherent in the reporting of Sunday estimates. “This happens weekend after weekend. It’s not going to change until we start reporting grosses the way we should: on Monday after all the theaters have reported.”

But while distribution execs often complain about the practice of giving Sunday-morning projections to the press, all of the studios rely on the publicity generated by having a No. 1 film in the market.

The B.O. dispute also distracted attention from the disappointing $7.8 million bow of Miramax’s “Mimic” and the $3.3 million opening of Universal’s “Leave It to Beaver.”

Few observers had expected “Beaver” to gross much more than $5 million. But the poor showing, coming as it does on the heels of a number of TV-to-feature flops, seems to indicate that baby boomer nostalgia in itself is not enough to open a picture.

After a rash of successful films including Universal’s “The Flintstones” (which grossed $130.5 million domestically), “The Addams Family” ($113.5 million) and “The Brady Bunch Movie” ($46.6 million), the series-to-bigscreen formula seems to be flagging.

Last year Universal’s “Flipper” opened to a waterlogged $4.2 million, and went on to pull in $20.1 million, and “A Very Brady Sequel” finished with $21.4 million. This April, U’s “McHale’s Navy” launched to $2.1 million, eventually landing $4.4 million.

That means, at the very least, that the upcoming bigscreen versions of ’60s series including “The Avengers,” “Lost in Space” and “The Mod Squad” will live or die based on their own merits.

Weekend ticket sales for the top 60 films came to $84.5 million, a drop of 2.5% from the previous weekend. But business was up 14% from the equivalent frame in 1996 when New Line’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau” led the weekend to a $72.3 finish.

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