Nov. B.O. tally 3% behind ’96 record

November box office opened up with a fury but ultimately lost steam to finish with $556.7 million. It wound up 3% behind last year’s record return of $574.1 million.

November also wound up a bridesmaid in ticket sales, trailing 1996 by 4% and inching ahead of 1994 levels by 1%. Estimated admissions for the month tallied to 119.4 million stubs.

Sony surged to a $104.5 million monthly gross, handily nabbing the market share crown with 18.8% — more than 6% ahead of its closest rival. The studio also had the month’s top individual grosser in “Starship Troopers,” which had a dynamic debut but is headed toward an OK domestic gross of $60 million to $65 million.

Industry mavens have been touting a strong, not-record holiday corridor for the remainder of the year. So the slightly softer debuts of Thanksgiving pics and the more rapid erosion of event movies conforms to the modest falloff envisioned in distribution and exhibition circles.

Still, the 1997 domestic box office has exceeded $5.65 billion through the end of November, and next week should top last year’s $5.75 billion cume. The year is on course to finish with close to $6.2 million.

A year ago, the November frame was dominated by such high-profile fare as “Ransom,” “Space Jam” and “Star Trek: First Contact.”

November 1996’s top 10 accounted for more than 75% of the B.O., but this year, the month’s top 10 reps 60%. However, the shift is somewhat deceptive, as the number of wide releases has gone from seven to 14 in 12 months.

Specialized product again held its own, though an increasing number of upscale pics are simply dipping a toe in November and expanding the following month. Exceptions that have been rolling out early include Miramax’s “The Wings of the Dove,” Fox Searchlight’s “The Ice Storm” and Trimark’s “Eve’s Bayou.”

Following “Starship Troopers,” November’s top grossers were (in descending order): Universal’s “The Jackal,” Gramercy’s “Bean,” Buena Vista’s “Flubber,” Fox’s “Anastasia,” New Line’s “Mortal Kombat Annihilation,” Paramount’s “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker,” Fox’s “Alien Resurrection,” Buena Vista’s reissue of “The Little Mermaid” and Sony’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

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