B.O. can’t escape grip of ‘Fugitive’

At the box office these days, the big ticket item is like that battery bunny — it keeps running and running and running.

The map of the box office was essentially unaltered for the third consecutive week. A few titles were added or subtracted, but the viewing gestalt was left intact.

Warner Bros.’ “The Fugitive” was still at large with a $ 14,502,865 weekend to retain its champion status. After 21 days, it has earned slightly more than $ 111.2 million and ranks as the 77th all-time grosser.

Other current releases climbing the all-time chart include Paramount’s “The Firm,” 37th with $ 146.8 million; Disney’s “Aladdin,” 13th with $ 215.5; and Universal’s “Jurassic Park,” just $ 11 million away from second spot with a cume of $ 311.1 million.

This week’s runner-up was Columbia/Castle Rock’s debut of “Needful Things” with a gross of $ 5,202,478. The Stephen King adaptation essentially fit the same audience niche as last week’s “HardTarget” and “Jason Goes to Hell” the week before. However, considering the picture’s $ 2,650 average, one would have to say that young males with a craving for action fare are pretty much sated.

The best of the wide releases was Warner Bros.’ “The Man Without a Face,” a sober social drama starring and directed by Mel Gibson. Its weekend take was $ 4 ,026,775 for an average of $ 4,655. The film got an encouraging start, and one has to conclude that even disfigured, a real movie star improves one’s odds at the box office.

A quartet of new titles did not have the benefit of a star or a major marketing push. “Son of the Pink Panther” had the considerable asset of a well-known and beloved character. Its opening weekend added up to $ 1,129,689 and a theater average of $ 1,149.

Only marginally better were the preems of Fox’s martial arts “Only the Strong” and the light comic “Father Hood” from Hollywood Pictures. They ranked 14th and 15th with grosses of $ 1,286,889 and $ 1,286,809, respectively. Each had a per-engagement average of about $ 2,000. “Only the Strong” was launched (but did not sail) in 668 situations and not the considerably higher number reported Monday.

Paramount’s “The Thing Called Love,” a country-music-themed romance, arrived with an average of $ 884 and a $ 433,254 gross. The studio avoided most major centers and found secondary markets out of sync with the pic’s rhythm.

With the exception of the “Panther” saga, the landscape for both new mainstream and specialized titles was relatively predictable. Star and marketing hooks translated into bigger audiences than those for films with no discernible novelty elements.

Thus, the sexual hijinx of IRS Media’s “Inside Monkey Zetterland” could stir up an impressive $ 9,000 on each of its two screens. “Crush,” a bizarre psychosexual drama, did $ 12,215 in a single SanFran bow. Conversely, Triton’s “The Last Party,” a quasi-documentary, had a dull $ 4,088 in a single Manhattan screen and the rockumentary “The Cure” did barely more than $ 1,000 in two Midwestern tests.

“You always want some extra hook to work with when you market a movie,” said Gramercy chief Russell Schwartz. The company certainly had that with the black Western “Posse” but doesn’t have the equivalent heat in its current “King of the Hill.” Still, the current film — a depression-era coming-of-age saga — saw its gross and averages rise in its second weekend.

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