‘Philly’ tops wild ride

It was anything but business as usual at the weekend box office. The Martin Luther King holiday was rocked on Monday by sizable seismic activity in Southern California. On the East Coast and in the Midwest, blizzards and sub-zero temps had audiences staying close to hearth and home.

On the exhibition side, L.A. County moviegoing was officially curtailed at sundown. However, many screens were also dark during the day as a result of such things as water damage, equipment problems, fallen ceiling tiles or simply because they were located in malls that had decided to close down.

Tuesday saw the majors pretty much all shook up. Universal and Disney were officially shuttered and other companies had skeleton staffs working several jobs in an effort to keep the machine going. Entertainment Data Inc. told its surveyors not to come in to collect data Monday and worked double time Tuesday to catch up.

Despite immobilized branch offices, computer systems amok and overworked staffers, those who could provided best estimates for Friday through Sunday. Prominent among the absent were Goldwyn and Buena Vista. Depending on the physical state of the distribution offices, figures range from precise to good but rough estimates.

Favorite in the land

It was pretty evident that TriStar’s “Philadelphia” was the single favorite film in the land, with about $ 12.3 million in its first weekend in wide release. That put the pic’s average close to $ 9,900, which had to raise smiles at the studio. While the initial quartet of dates had done very well, “Philly” had received a mixed bag of reviews. Now, there’s even talk that it could squeak in as an Oscar best picture nod.

“House Party 3,” another weekend freshman, was dancin’ to the tune of $ 6.1 million to rank third for the frame. With a near $ 7,200 average, it had a better opening gross than its earlier incarnations. Despite lackluster reviews, a targeted ad campaign hit the bull’s eye. The rest of the industry had written it off — until Wednesday opening-day returns came across the fax machine.

Disney preemed the period adventure “Iron Will,” and although studio numbers were unavailable, other tracking sources ranked it seventh, with estimates between $ 4.5 million and $ 4.6 million, a shade behind “Tombstone.” That would indicate a mushy average of $ 2,400 for the dog sled outing. A Disney spokeswoman with a short memory compared the launch response to its 1991 vintage “White Fang.” However, the earlier release did $ 5.6 million with about 40% fewer playdates and had an opening average of about $ 5,100.

Trimark’s “Death Wish V” hardly rekindled the franchise, with slightly better than $ 500,000 and an average of about $ 2,000.

Warner Bros. slipped its long-delayed “Body Snatchers” into two markets for a gross of almost $ 30,000 and a not too frightening $ 2,300 average. The jury is still out at the studio over whether to blitz theaters for a fast playoff or concede the theatrical front and go directly to Blockbuster, et al.

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