'The Truman Show' nabs $31.6 mil; 'Murder' strong at No. 2

HOLLYWOOD — Paramount’s “The Truman Show,” long seen as one of the summer’s box office wild cards, came up aces over the weekend, bowing to a studio-estimated $31.6 million.

Director Peter Weir’s critically acclaimed drama, which stars Jim Carrey as a man who discovers that since birth he has been the unwitting star of a 24-hour television show, beamed into 2,315 living rooms for a terrific $13,650 average.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ newcomer “A Perfect Murder” knocked off a solid $16.3 million, according to studio projections, landing it in second place. Among holdovers, Sony’s “Godzilla” continued its downward slide, dropping 45% to $10 million, while Fox sophomore “Hope Floats” dipped 40% to $8.5 million.

A wide variety of films in release powered the theatrical market to an estimated $90 million total, a whopping 27% ahead of last year at this time.

The combination of Carrey’s star power, near-unanimous critical praise and an inspired marketing campaign helped “The Truman Show” attract an audience which crossed age, gender and regional barriers.

“The makeup is even broader than we had expected,” said Wayne Lewellen, Paramount distribution president. “We had a lot of young males as well as a lot of older people who normally wouldn’t come to a Jim Carrey picture.”

However, one longtime Carrey constituency was not in evidence in large numbers: young children. With its themes of media manipulation and destiny vs. self-determination, “The Truman Show” is no “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.”

Lewellen added that the film packed houses in smaller markets as well as major cities.

While it’s all but impossible to project a film’s long-term prospects until second weekend ticket sales are counted up, “Truman” is virtually assured of hitting $100 million. Only one non-sequel, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” has ever bowed to more than $30 million and failed to reach the $100 million mark.

Exit polls and anecdotal data indicate opening weekend audiences responded very positively to the film, despite the fact that — or in some cases because — it’s not a typical Carrey comedy. More than 78% of respondents described the film as excellent or very good, according to Lewellen.

The question now is how far into the box office stratosphere that positive word of mouth will propel “Truman.” If the film catches on in a big way, most ob-servers agree that $150 million or even $200 million is not out of the question. However, while the film has been compared to Paramount’s previous summer sleeper “Forrest Gump,” few expect “Truman” to achieve anywhere near “Gump’s” $330 million domestic cume.

Whatever the final total, the film will likely be a turning point for Carrey’s career. While he had already proven himself to be one of Hollywood’s top box office attractions (both “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” and “Liar Liar” opened to more than $30 million), as well as one of its best paid stars, “The Truman Show” demonstrates — in a way that the disappointing “Cable Guy” failed to do — that Carrey is capable of considerably more than slapstick comedy and rubber-faced mimicry.

Although the Andrew Davis-helmed “A Perfect Murder” attracted a considerably less diverse audience, Warner Bros. distribution president Barry Reardon predicted the pic would continue to sell tickets, perhaps eventually grossing as much as $75 million.

“It’s a really good suspense thriller and there’s nothing like it coming along,” said Reardon.

The Michael Douglas starrer’s longevity could get a boost from the fact that it appealed overwhelmingly to older audiences. About 95% of those in attendance were over 25, according to Reardon.

Since older audiences are less likely to rush out to see movies on opening weekend, older-skewing films tend to be less front-loaded than youth-oriented pics.

Among specialized releases, Miramax’s German-language acquisition “Beyond Silence” bowed quietly in four New York and L.A. arthouses with $14,000, for an inauspicious $3,500 per screen average.

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