‘Doubtfire’ a drag to B.O. foes

There was no doubt what was firing the box office this weekend. Fox’s “Mrs. Doubtfire” was expected to do $ 15.3 million — almost three times the business of its closest rival. The pic has definitely ignited, providing the one bright spark in the marketplace.

Somewhere in the holiday shuffle, the majors and indies wound up missing a prime opportunity to open one of their juggernaut releases. Instead, the bill of fare was limited in launch and appeal.

Gramercy had a soft $ 710,000 estimate on its weekend launch of “A Dangerous Woman” and Cannon had pure fodder with its $ 150,000 preem of the actioner “Rescue Me.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire” sailed strongly into its second weekend with an expected $ 15.3 million. It represented a modest drop of 25% as it emerged from 1,678 parlors with an average of $ 9,110. In 12 days,it’s accrued $ 47.2 million.

Also holding surprisingly well, with a 29% decline, was second-place Warner Bros.’ “A Perfect World” with $ 5.7 million. The period dramatic thriller was on the road with an average of $ 2,900 from 1,964 playdates. After its second weekend it has a cume of $ 18.9 million.

In the absence of a major release or two, overall business flattened like a pancake. The box office plummeted 42% from last weekend and 22% from the comparable weekend of 1992. A year ago, the top four films in the marketplace — including a fourth-place preem for “Distinguished Gentleman”– each had grosses in excess of $ 10 million.

Weekend revenues boosted the year to date to about $ 4.63 billion, ranking it second only to 1990’s final annual box office.

So how come this past weekend saw a window of opportunity close? Warner Bros. distribution president Barry Reardon, for example, said the void was created too late for his company to step in with its Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau comedy “Grumpy Old Men.” (Company had planned an early 1994 release for the pic, but moved it up into the holiday season.) WB sneaked the film Saturday with a modest turnout but strong exit response. The Christmas Day release has to do a lot of catch-up quickly to establish a presence prior to opening.

The limited 293-screen launch of Gramercy’s “A Dangerous Woman” saw a decidedly non-lethal estimate of $ 710,000, which should rank about 14th for the frame. That shook down to an average of $ 2,420 and only some year-end acclaim for actress Debra Winger is likely to perk up its commercial prospects.

Even more dire was Cannon’s “Rescue Me,” which arrived with an unsalvageable $ 150,000 from 625 brief stopovers. With an average of $ 240, it’s only a heartbeat away from the video shelf.

Paramount’s “Addams Family Values” took a hard knock and wound up third with about $ 4.6 million. The sequel fell 57%, registering an average of $ 1,750 from 2,577 haunted houses. It’s rolled up to $ 36.3 million.

Also taking it on the chin was Disney’s fourth-place “The Three Musketeers,” with a projected $ 3.8 million weekend. That halved last weekend’s performance and translated to an $ 1,810 average from 2,096 duels. It has a cume of $ 38.1 million.

Universal’s “Carlito’s Way” slipped 44% to rank fifth with $ 2.6 million. The crime tome had a very average $ 1,610 from 1,605 hideouts. It’s earned $ 29 million to date.

A step back in sixth at $ 2.4 million was Columbia’s “My Life.” Its vital signs abated 43% at 1,290 encounters for an average of $ 1,860. Its cume is $ 22 .4 million.

Miramax’s “The Piano” continued to play the right commercial chord in seventh with an estimated $ 1.7 million. Declining 31% for the frame, it averaged $ 7, 110. Its 239 recitals have played up $ 7.5 million with plenty of encores ahead.

Miramax also expanded its Brit comedy “The Snapper” to six screens and had a rollicking $ 65,000 weekend. That’s an average of about $ 10,830.

Universal’s “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” was a decidedly unanimated eighth with $ 1.5 million. It had a bronto decline of 60% for a second-weekend average of $ 820. Amblin’ out of 1,829 caves, its cume has climbed to $ 6.4 million.

Second-weekend family fare also fizzled with Warner Bros.’ “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” falling 52% for $ 380,000. Columbia/Castle Rock’s “Josh and S.A.M.” crumbled some 68% to $ 260,000. Both films have a 12-day total of about $ 1.4 million.

Universal’s other dino –“Jurassic Park”– couldn’t be discounted (except in lower admission houses), with $ 1.2 million projected for the weekend. It brings its bargain run to $ 4 million and a whopping cume of $ 335 million.

New Line’s “Man’s Best Friend” nipped into ninth with $ 1.4 million. Its bark muffled by some 51%, the film had an average of $ 1,250 from 1,122 kennels. That puts its cume at around $ 9.8 million.

Touchstone still had a few scares left in 10th place with $ 1.3 million for “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Fading 61% meant a less-animated average of $ 980 from 1,341 cheery locales. To date it’s grossed $ 45.4 million.