Oscar Talk Fuels ‘Fall’s’ Gross Fire

For the fourth consecutive week, TriStar’s “Legends of the Fall” has been the beneficiary of Oscar fever. Even the prospect of an Oscar nom can fuel business for weeks, and since going into wide release, the epic drama of the West has been numero uno.

This past week, “Legends” grossed $6.5 million for a cume of $44 million. It dropped just 21% from the immediate prior frame. Oscar nominations are announced on Feb. 14.

Meanwhile, the weekend trio of freshmen were perceived as routine genre pix. Warner Bros.’ Whoopi Goldberg comedy “Boys on the Side” opened with $4.8 million and a $3,638 average. Caravan’s “The Jerky Boys” (aka “Dumb and Dumbest”) yanked out a $4.4 million gross and $2,903 average. And New Line Cinema’s “In the Mouth of Madness” – a horror pic that’s neither a franchise nor Stephen King – grossed a passable $3.4 million with a $2,280 average.

Together, the trio grossed $12.6 million – $500,000 more than “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” which debuted at the same time a year ago. The difference was that the Jim Carrey revelation was marketed as something very different, bizarre, even dangerous. It may not have lived up to the sizzle but it drew crowds in and enough left with a smile to keep it rolling along.

The current crop of features might objectively be labeled predictable. But what has industry vets scratching their collective pates is: Why on earth are they being sold that way? When was the last time you decided to see a picture because it had the virtue of being ordinary?

Back at the Oscar race, what’s unusual about the 1995 edition of award fever is the limited number of titles likely to benefit from the competition.

Paramount Pictures’ front-runner “Forrest Gump,” which will be relaunched Feb. 17, will see some additional coin in domestic and overseas engagements – assuming it’s a major Oscar contender. But it peaked commercially before the start of award season. The same goes for Miramax’s “Pulp Fiction.”

Castle Rock’s “The Shawshank Redemption” and Hollywood Pictures’ “Quiz Show” were early domestic fades that could have done better with year-end preems. A clutch of nominations would bolster overseas debuts.

The pix actually getting Oscar assists have played in the margins and will earn millions, rather than tens of millions, from the association – fleeting or otherwise. That handful includes Fine Line’s “Hoop Dreams,” Samuel Goldwyn’s “The Madness of King George” and, oddly, October’s “The Last Seduction.” That film, like “Red” and “To Live,” has been pumped up in the media because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences ruled it ineligible for awards.

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