‘Crocodile’ Takes Biggest Bite of Box Office : Receipts From 4-Day Holiday May Set Record at $60 Million Plus

Times Staff Writer

The amiable Aussie Mick Dundee ran rings around muscle-bound John Rambo in the first round of summer competition at the box office.

Over what could be the biggest moviegoing Memorial Day weekend ever with box-office receipts expected to top at least $60 million, Paramount Pictures’ “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II” generated an estimated $24.5 million ($8,623 per screen). During the same four days--Friday through Monday-- moviegoers nationwide paid about $16.7 million ($6,518 per screen) to see Carolco Pictures “Rambo III.”

“I guess if there’s a race, there has to be a winner, and that’s us,” said Sidney Ganis, president of worldwide marketing for Paramount. Paul Hogan, the popular Australian TV star who stars as adventurer Michael J. (Mick) Dundee, wrote the film’s script with his son Brett.


Despite “ ‘Crocodile’ ‘s” 47% edge, both films were tagged winners by industry observers. “How can you complain when ‘Rambo’ does over $20 million in the first week, and “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee” does over $30 million?” said Phil Garfinkle, senior vice president of Entertainment Data Inc.

With a production price tag estimated by industry sources at close to $60 million, “Rambo III,” which stars Sylvester Stallone as roving commando John Rambo, is one of the most expensive films ever made. Kathryn Linclau, Carolco vice president of marketing, called “Rambo III’s” weekend box office take “terrific.”

George Lucas’ high-tech fantasy film “Willow,” which opened a week before the big Memorial Day crunch, suffered substantially from the new competition. The film’s box-office receipts, at about $7.5 million (about $7,310 per screen) for the four-day weekend, dropped off 17%, according to Lee Rich, chief executive officer of MGM/UA, which is distributing the film. A comparison of the Friday through Sunday figures showed a 28% dropoff from the previous week.

While some observers said those figures suggested a weak showing, others were more sanguine about “Willow’s” staying power. “Considering you had two blockbusters opening against it, that drop is not bad,” said Garfinkle.

Rich said his studio had anticipated a substantial decrease in ticket sales during the openings of sequels to the popular “Rambo” and “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee” films. “These pictures have a built-in audience going for them,” Rich said.

Rich also noted that “Willow,” which cost a hefty $35 million to produce, only opened in about 1,000 theaters nationwide. In contrast, “Rambo III” opened in 2,562 theaters, and “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II” opened in 2,837 theatres.

Some industry officials had questioned the wisdom of opening two major action-packed adventures like “Crocodile” and “Rambo” simultaneously. Both films opened last Wednesday, prompting some officials to suggest that they were going to eat into each other’s box-office receipts.

But Paramount’s Ganis defended that strategy. “Both studios knew they had very, very strong potentials going in,” Ganis said. The decisions by those two studios to open on Memorial Day weekend--the first big weekend of the summer--was an attempt to capitalize on that potential, he said.

“We never even thought of not opening this weekend,” Ganis said. The competition from “Rambo,” he said, “didn’t hurt at all.

“When you’re able to come out of the week with almost $30 million, the pain is eased considerably,” Ganis added. Industry sources estimated production costs on “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II” at $15 million-$17 million.

“I don’t think the competition hurt them at all,” said Art Murphy, industry analyst for the trade paper Daily Variety. Murphy noted that the opening of hit movies on Memorial Day weekend draws such large crowds that there is plenty of business to go around.

During its first six days of release, “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II’s” box-office receipts totaled $29.2 million, according to Paramount. “Rambo III” generated $21.2 million, according to Tri-Star Pictures, which distributed the film.

In part because of the stiff competition, neither “Rambo III” nor “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II” was able to ring up the same numbers as earlier Memorial Day blockbusters. In 1983, “Return of the Jedi” rang up about $30.4 million in box-office receipts over the four-day weekend; “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” did $33.9 million in business over Memorial Day weekend in 1984, and “Beverly Hills Cop II” did $33 million during the same period last year (and $26.4 million in three days).

However, the openings of two big films on the same weekend drew record crowds to theaters around the country. Murphy said he anticipates total box-office receipts for the weekend to top $62 million.

That compares to $56.6 million last year, when the sequel to “Beverly Hills Cop” opened, and $50 million in 1986, when Stallone’s “Cobra” opened and “Top Gun” and “Poltergeist II” were already in theaters, according to Entertainment Data Inc. In 1984, moviegoers swarming to theaters to see “Indiana Jones” and “The Natural,” among other films, paid $62.6 million at the box office over Memorial Day weekend.

The summer’s box-office competition will heat up even more this weekend, when 20th Century Fox’s “Big,” starring Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins, opens.