‘Jackal’ hits B.O. target

U pic takes $15.6 mil; 'Starship,' 'Mermaid' tie for No. 2

It was the weekend of “The Jackal” at the domestic box office as Universal and Mutual Film Co.’s Bruce Willis/Richard Gere starrer picked off a sturdy $15.6 million, the studio’s highest non-holiday fall opening ever.

Despite Friday and Saturday’s wintry weather in the Northeast and Midwest, helmer Michael Caton-Jones’ thriller averaged a muscular $7,114 per assignment.

Business was off generally, with ticket sales for films grossing $500,000 or more estimated at about $74 million, down 12% from this time last year.

Suffering particularly heavy casualties was Sony’s sophomore “Starship Troopers,” which dropped 54% to $10.2 million, according to studio estimates.

The bug-war pic has proven to be a tougher sell to women and older audiences than studio execs had anticipated. Meanwhile, the film’s R rating has kept younger teenage boys out of the mix. “Troopers” tied for second with Buena Vista’s “The Little Mermaid,” while Polygram’s international hit “Bean” was down 37% to $8 million at No. 4, according to Daily Variety estimates. Its drop was steeper than industry observers had expected.

The reissue of Disney’s 1989 animated “Mermaid” fished out a handsome $10.2 million in 2,054 lagoons, or $4,966 per site. That’s particularly impressive considering the 8-year-old film already is a fixture in millions of homevideo libraries and airs regularly on the Disney Channel.

“Mermaid” originally splashed down at $5.9 million on 994 screens, eventually bubbling up to $84.4 million. BV execs expect the reissue to net between $28 million and $30 million in its 17-day closed-end run.

The surprising strength of the opening is “less about our marketing campaign than about the public’s thirst for quality family entertainment,” said Phil Barlow, BV distribution president.

Starting Friday, “Mermaid” goes head-to-head nationwide against “Anastasia,” the first feature out of Fox’s pricey Arizona animation factory.

Single-run success

:”Anastasia” grossed $125,000 in a single run at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater over the weekend.

Tom Sherak, 20th Domestic Pictures chairman, was quick to compare the packed exclusive run with the $162,000 earned by Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in two theaters in November 1991. The following November, Disney’s “Aladdin” grossed $196,000 in two runs.

“Beauty” and “Aladdin” went on to gross $154 million and $217 million, respectively. But “Anastasia” will face considerable competition for tots’ attention this holiday season, including “Mermaid” and BV’s Nov. 26 release, “Flubber.”

No studio has yet posed a significant challenge to Disney’s preeminence in the field of modern feature animation. The highest-grossing non-Disney animated feature was Paramount’s “Beavis and Butt-head” at $63.1 million. Among pics aimed at younger audiences, Universal’s “Land Before Time” and “An American Tale” each grossed about $48 million domestically.

Despite last weekend’s sneak previews, Warner Bros.’ “The Man Who Knew Too Little” couldn’t find its audience. The Bill Murray spy spoof picked up an inauspicious $4.6 million in 2,036 playdates for a $2,260 average, according to studio estimates.

The debut is another in a series of disappointments for Warners, which over the past six months has seen several star-driven pictures fall short of expectations. Notable examples include “Murder at 1600,” “Fathers’ Day,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and last weekend’s “Mad City.”

Trimark’s “Eve’s Bayou” displayed the best holding power among top 10 films. The Samuel Jackson-Lynn Whitfield starrer dropped just 24% to $2.5 million after expanding its run slightly from 659 to 672 theaters.

The picture has begun to cross over into predominantly white arthouse theaters, explained Roger Lewin, Trimark senior VP of theatrical distribution. “The grosses have gone up in some of the Landmark theaters we’re in,” Lewin said. “Our next battle is to hang in there until Thanksgiving and hopefully beyond.”

‘Dove’ takes flight

Among specialized pics, Miramax’s “The Wings of the Dove” took flight with $780,000 after expanding from seven to 77 nests. That gives the Iain Softly-helmed drama a lofty $10,130 average, and a cume of slightly less than $1.1 million.

The picture saw only modest drops in its New York and L.A. exclusives, while turning in strong performances in Southern markets including Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

New Line’s “One Night Stand,” director Mike Figgis’ follow-up to his 1995 surprise hit “Leaving Las Vegas,” opened to a forgettable $1 million in 407 locations. The Wesley Snipes-Nastassja Kinski starrer about marital infidelity averaged a flaccid $2,457 per tryst.

In its second weekend, In Pictures’ “The Knowledge of Healing” was up 15% to $11,573 in its single run at New York’s Film Forum.

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