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The traditional start of the summer season at the box office brought with it the full gamut of emotions for distributors and exhibitors. However, highs and lows aside, no clear picture of what is to come in the next four months could be gleaned from the Memorial Day weekend.

TriStar/Carolco’s “Cliffhanger” opened at the summit, virtually doubling the gross of its closest rival with a four-day take of $ 20,458,022. Debuting in 2, 333 sites, the film had healthy per-screen averages of $ 8,769. In a worst-case scenario, the all-action Stallone should sail to $ 70 million.

The good news for “Cliffhanger” was that it earned exactly what tracking studies predicted. What’s a little more problematic is the fact that business remained virtually consistent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, suggesting, at least initially, a predominantly male appeal. But exit polls are good and the film appears to be one of the few action entries that doesn’t make adults wince.

Warner Bros.’ premiere of “Made in America” clocked in second with $ 11,821, 326. The Whoopi Goldberg-Ted Danson comedy opened nicely — though not spectacularly — with averages of $ 5,772 from 2,048 playdates. It should have a decent run, though considerably below the potency level of “Sister Act.”

The third major new release, Hollywood Pictures’ “Super Mario Bros.,” was some kind of disappointment. The only real discussion is whether its $ 8,532,623 weekend gross constitutes a major or a minor setback for Disney. With averages of $ 4,100 from 2,081 engagements, the figures look better if they reflect predominantly kids’ admissions. Still, it’s a very thin constituency for a big-budget acquisition that was envisioned as a viable franchise.

Buena Vista, with “Guilty as Sin” and “Life With Mikey” in the wings, has not stepped out on its best foot this summer. However, the company does have seven more shots at the brass ring.

On paper, the holiday openings appeared ideally balanced: “Cliffhanger” for the boys, “Made in America” for the girls and “Super Mario Bros.” for the kids. In a global sense, the result was pretty good. Films grossing in excess of $ 500 ,000 for the period totaled a notch more than $ 88 million, or 6% less than last year’s record-breaking $ 93.5 million.

It was also heartening because the field had only one sequel in service, Fox’s “Hot Shots! Part Deux.” In 1992, the one-two punch of a pair of sequels accounted for about $ 50 million at the box office. The past weekend was more even-handed, which may be a boon to exhibitors but does not bode well for studios in pursuit of the ever-elusive home run.

One potential surprise, albeit on a smaller scale, could very well come from New Line’s critically acclaimed “Menace II Society.” It opened last Wednesday and had a weekend gross of $ 3,816,393 from just 464 screens for averages of $ 8 ,225. It’s playing largely to ethnic audiences, though less so than either “Who’s the Man?” or “Posse.”

While considerably more intense and graphic than “Boyz N the Hood,””Menace” has an upscale crossover appeal greater than might have been expected.

Finally, First National Film Corp.’s “Happily Ever After,” an animated sequel to the Snow White legend, registered just better than a blip with $ 1,756,050 in its bow. Averaging $ 1,725 from 1,018 playdates, it did not benefit from any association with its better-known cousin, which Disney will rerelease on the July 4 holiday weekend.