A Smashing Opening Day for 'Indiana'

Times Staff Writer

Aided by a hike in ticket prices and a teachers' strike in Los Angeles, Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" enjoyed the second largest Memorial Day weekend opening ever.

Across the nation Wednesday, the final installment of the popular trilogy about the daring exploits of archeologist Indiana Jones exceeded opening day ticket sales for its predecessors, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," but fell short of the business done by the second "Star Wars" sequel in 1983.

"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" on Wednesday grossed $5.6 million, while "Raiders" grossed $2.2 million when it opened in 1981, and "Temple of Doom" grossed $4.7 million on the Wednesday before Memorial Day in 1984. "Return of the Jedi," still the record-holder for a midweek opening before Memorial Day weekend, grossed $6.2 million on its first day in the theaters in 1983.

"We're ecstatic," Barry London, president of Paramount's motion picture group, said Thursday morning. "We're exactly where we want to be, with a clear period for a few weeks that we'll be trying to take advantage of."

London was referring to the competition that "Indiana Jones" will face when this summer's other potential blockbusters--including "Batman," "Ghostbusters II" and "Star Trek V"--hit the nation's theaters in June.

Despite Paramount's professed delight with the opening-day numbers, "Indiana Jones" did worse than "Temple of Doom" on a per-screen basis. That number is important because it indicates how full theaters actually were.

"Temple of Doom," which initially drew crowds because of the popularity of the first film but by most accounts was a disappointment to fans, opened at 1,687 theaters and enjoyed a per-screen average of $2,787. The third installment of "Indiana Jones" opened at 640 more theaters, and its per-screen average was $2,414.

An informal survey of theaters nationwide found that while big-screen, state-of-the-art theaters were sold out--with fans waiting overnight in New York and Los Angeles--others had plenty of tickets to spare during the morning and afternoon shows. At one 500-seat theater, the Pacific 4 in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the 5:30 p.m. show was only half full, though the 8 p.m. screening was sold out.

Comparisons of opening day business with previous hit movies are somewhat misleading because of the rise in ticket prices. Even in recent weeks, theater owners hiked prices from $6.50 to $7 at some Westwood theaters and from $6 to $6.50 in many other places.

Still, if the responses of dozens of moviegoers interviewed by The Times are any indication, "Indiana Jones" will enjoy tremendous word-of-mouth, with business likely to build in the coming weeks.

John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations, Inc., predicted that the film could gross as much as $50 million in its first week.

Although fans interviewed said they like the film's action, the interplay between Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, and Sean Connery, as his father, appeared to be particularly popular.

Gayle-Lynne Gordon was waiting in line for her second viewing as of 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, and said she plans to see it yet again this weekend. "It's the human dimension between Indy and Professor Jones (Connery) and their talking about what might have been between them," she said. "I can relate to that. We've all had relationships we wished would have worked out better."

At the Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood, fans spent the night in order to get good seats for the first show Wednesday morning. "Indiana Jones" producer Robert Watts even dropped by the theater to greet the hardy fans personally.

"We had to be first because we're die-hard Indy and Spielberg fans, not to mention this is the last one," Adam Mast, a college student from Burbank, said as he waited in line Tuesday night.

Mast and his friend Scott Nicol brought along a portable TV set to kill the time. "We're going to watch 'Star Trek' at midnight, and some 'Taxi' and 'Cheers,' and we've got lots of music tapes and loads of Numero Uno pizza," Mast said.

Shankari Patel of Los Angeles, there with her friend Leonardo Bixby of San Bernardino, shrugged and smiled when asked why she was there.

"I'm a very loyal George Lucas fan. I can't be disappointed with this film, " she said. "Lucas has never disappointed me!" (Patel is not the only loyal fan in her family. When Patel was 13, she said, she and her mother waited all night on Hollywood Boulevard for "Return of the Jedi.")

Bixby grinned at Patel. "I got dragged out here," he said. "It's a great excuse to come to L.A. and it's a tradition. She and I met six years ago during the line party for 'Return of the Jedi.' "

At an Edwards Cinema in San Marcos in northern San Diego County, 17 moviegoers said they liked the film and would recommend it to their friends.

"Spielberg is a mastermind," said Fred Chytraus, 29, of Vista. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 12."

"I loved it. It was great. Right up there with 'Raiders,' "said Roberta Gomez, 20, of Vista. Twenty-four-year-old Beau Reed loved the film too, but added, " 'Raiders' is still the best of the three."

"This one definitely had more character development than the others," 19-year-old Eric Prosser said of the trilogy. "I loved the young Indiana Jones, and I loved Sean Connery. He was classy. He and Harrison Ford are a great match-up. They had a lot of chemistry together."

At the Watertower Place Theater in Chicago, about 50 people were already queued up by 9:30 a.m. for the morning shows. Some of them had taken the day off work. Fans who saw the film throughout the day said it was worth the wait.

"I thought it was absolutely the most wonderful, exciting movie I have seen in years," said Gloria Brown, 67. "You lose yourself in it. It's just entertaining. No message, no nothing, just a very wonderful adventure story. I thought Sean Connery was incredible."

Adam Golomb, 18, said the film was better than "Temple of Doom," "but not as good as the first one." Still, he said he planned to see the movie again--that same day.

At the Omni Mall in downtown Miami, two theaters were only half full during early afternoon showings but those people who did turn out said they weren't disappointed.

Doug Beasley, a 24-year-old bartender, said he would see the film again.

"The latest Indiana Jones is the best because the ending was different," he said. "Chasing something worthwhile gave meaning behind the ending. . . . Thumbs up!"

'It's great how they run the same themes: the snakes, the rats, the scar," said Victor Jones, a 26-year-old disc jockey from Jacksonville, Fla. "Sean Connery was perfect as James Bond, and it was great to see him in 'Indiana Jones.' "

Contributing to this story were Sue Martin in Los Angeles, Tom Gorman in Escondido, Tracy Shryer in Chicago and Anna Virtue in Miami.

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