When Warner Bros. Distribution President Barry Reardon saw an early version of the cop-cutup "Police Academy 2," he was confident that the studio had a hit. Reardon dispensed with the customary sneak previews and instructed his sales staff to start booking theaters; the studio signed up 1,600. The wide-break strategy paid off. Hollywood's clear-cut hit of the Easter season, "Academy 2" has earned $23.7 million in just 10 days, the largest springtime opening in box-office history.
Paramount executives may have harbored similar hopes for the big-budget (about $20 million) "King David," but the wide-release strategy failed to pay off when audiences stayed away from the biblical epic en masse. In its first 10 days, "David" took in just $3.9 million, and last weekend box-office receipts fell a fatal 49%. Still, there was good news for Paramount this week: "Beverly Hills Cop" surpassed the $200-million mark in ticket sales, and "Witness" remained in the Top 10 despite competition from a crop of new films.
This year about 20 films from major studios and independents debuted in the important Easter period, taking in an estimated $284.6 million compared with $224.3 million for the same three-week period last year. While 1984 produced several hits, including "Splash" and "Police Academy," the sheer quantity of new releases this year translated to a bigger holiday box office in dollars. "There was more product, but there weren't any more hits," said industry analyst Art Murphy.
While Christmas has traditionally been reserved for more serious fare and summer remains the platform for comedy and escape, Easter has evolved into a mixed menu. This year "Friday the 13th Part V" ($17.7 million in its first 10 days) succeeded alongside "Mask," which earned $20.1 million in its first month.
And, while "The Care Bears Movie" quietly cuddled its youthful audience ($9 million in its first 10 days), Columbia offered up spring's first no-hitter, "The Slugger's Wife," which took in only $2.5 million in its first week and a half at 800 theaters. Disney had similar tough luck with "Baby," which earned only $1.8 million last weekend, a 49% fall from the previous weekend, and has taken in a disappointing $11 million in 10 days.
Easter's heavy dose of youth comedies brought mixed results. "Porky's Revenge" opened strong ($15.3 million in 10 days) but has started to slide, while the well-received "The Sure Thing" seems to have flattened out at $15.2 million. "There's a plethora of flesh and sand pictures out there," said producer Don Simpson ("Beverly Hills Cop"). "Unless it's a high-profile movie, though, the exploitation film can get hurt. The public picks and chooses."
Perhaps the public's most surprising pick was Tri-Star's "The Last Dragon," a kung fu feature laced with pop music that brought in $14.5 million in its first 10 days and is one of the few movies that showed an increase in its second weekend at the box office. "Dragon" spawned a Top 10 single (DeBarge's "Rhythm of the Night"), and word of mouth is attracting an unexpected crossover audience.
Despite the overall good news, studio executives voiced concern about a growing glut of movies that may cut into profits for new releases. "You're competing with 20 pictures, and that has to hurt everyone's gross," said Tom Sherak, 20th Century Fox president of domestic distribution.
Sherak knows it is only going to get worse. This summer, Hollywood's majors will release at least two dozen pictures, one of which just may be strong enough to knock "Beverly Hills Cop" out of some of its 1,037 theaters.