Totals light week before ‘Lost World’

Even before its Friday opening, Universal’s “Lost World” is frightening people.

The specter of the “Jurassic Park” sequel already scared distributors out of debuting any high-profile wide releases over the past weekend. (Apparently studio execs feared the dino pic’s huge footprint would obliterate any chance their films would have for a second weekend.)

“I wouldn’t want to be going into this weekend with a film where I had a lot of money in the negative,” said one distribution honcho. “‘Lost World’s’ ” going to be like a vacuum cleaner, just sucking up everything.”

Five days before its release, audience interest in the Steven Spielberg- helmed sequel already is huge.

Market research showed the film to be the first choice among men and women in all age groups, with 34% of respondents rating the film their first choice for the weekend. Fully 40% of older males said it was their top pick.

No place to go

But given the remarkable staying power of the past weekend’s top holdovers, the decision not to open any potential blockbusters left moviegoers all dressed up with no place to go.

Drop-offs among the top 10 ranged from 11% for “Liar Liar” to 33% for box office champ “The Fifth Element.”

The pre-Memorial Day frame has been a key weekend in recent years: In 1996, Warner Bros.’ sophomore “Twister” picked up a phenomenal $37.1 million. In 1995, 20th Century Fox’s “Die Hard With a Vengeance” took in $22.2 million.

This year, Paramount took a limited shot with Sidney Lumet’s police drama “Night Falls on Manhattan.” The 40th film from the director of “Serpico” and “Prince of the City” bagged a modest $2.9 million in 758 precincts.

Trimark sprang for about $5 million in P&A on its African-American comedy “Sprung,” which grossed just $2.5 million in 780 encounters. The bow was particularly disappointing given pre-opening tracking predicting a $4 million to $6 million weekend.

Meanwhile, a number of distribution execs were grumbling Monday about what they saw as exaggerated box office reporting on Miramax/Dimension’s “Scream.”

Miramax said the film made $1.5 million, but estimates by rival studios ranged as low as $700,000.

“It’s obvious what they’re trying to do,” said one competitor who asked not to be named. “They’re trying to reach that magical $100 million mark.”

“Scream,” which bowed on Dec. 20, 1996, has grossed $97.3 million to date, according to the mini-major.

The Wes Craven thriller went into dollar runs over the weekend, but remains in some firstrun theaters as well. It was the discount break that accounted for the film’s 120% increase over the previous weekend, according to a Miramax spokeswoman.

“We stand by our numbers,” she said. “This movie has performed incredibly and continues to outperform our competitors’ expectations.”

Ticket sales for the top 60 films came to $56.1 million, a drop of 14% from the previous weekend. The tally was down 17% from the same period a year ago.

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