‘Fathers’ figures fall flat for WB

While the opening strength of Sony’s “The Fifth Element” surprised some observers, it was the lackluster debut of Warner Bros.’ “Fathers’ Day” that caught most B.O. watchers off guard.

The weekend was also notable for the powerful hold enjoyed by “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” which dropped just 26% to $7.1 million.

Despite “Fathers’ Day’s” mixed reviews, many were shocked that the first pairing of comic superstars Robin Williams and Billy Crystal resulted in an $8.8 million total.

Put in perspective, the $60 million-plus star-driven comedy opened lower than last week’s Mike Myers starrer “Austin Powers” or WB’s own February release “Vegas Vacation,” starring Chevy Chase.

Buena Vista’s Williams starrer “Jack” opened to $11.2 million in last August, eventually grossing $58 million domestically. Earlier that year, MGM’s “The Birdcage,” bowed to $18.3 million on its way to $124 million.

Crystal’s last feature outing, “Forget Paris,” opened to $5.8 million in May 1995, and wound up with a $33.2 million cume. “City Slickers 2” debuted with $11.5 million and topped out at $43.6 million.

Try again next week

Warner execs said the company plans significant second-week ad spending on “Fathers’ Day,” in hopes the film will find its audience.

“We’re supporting it 100%,” said WB president of distribution Barry Reardon. “We’ve got a movie that we think is very viable, very commercial. We just happened to get off to a slow start. We think it’s going to stay in there.”

Competition shouldn’t be too stiff for “Fathers’ Day’s” slightly older, slightly female core demographic this weekend. Openers include Spelling and Paramount’s “Night Falls on Manhattan,” Trimark’s broad comedy “Sprung” and Sony’s kidpic sequel “The Second Jungle Book.”

Of course, all bets are off the following weekend, when “Lost World,” the summer’s 800-pound gorilla — or dinosaur — appears. That same weekend, Warner Bros.’ own comedy “Addicted to Love” will also vie for counterprogramming dollars.

Total receipts for the top 60 films came to $65.1 million over the weekend, down 4% from the previous frame. The tally represents an 8% drop from the May 10, 1996, frame, when WB’s “Twister” blew into theaters with a $41.1 million bow.

It was only the second weekend of 1997 that failed to outpace the comparable frame the previous year.

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