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A Blockbuster Weekend : ‘Batman’ Propels Box Office Toward Record Summer

Times Staff Writer

Call him Batman, the Box Office Hulk.

In a weekend that shattered all records for box-office grosses, Warner Bros.’ $50-million “Batman” swung high above the opposition, grossing $42.7 million in 2,194 theaters for a per-theater average of $19,465. The figure eclipsed the old record, set last weekend by “Ghostbusters II,” by more than $13 million.

It was the kind of weekend studio executives dream of. With “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Ghostbusters II,” “Dead Poets Society” and the upstart newcomer “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” all packing them in, America’s 24,000-plus theaters took in $92 million. The difference between the new weekend record and the old, which was set over the Fourth of July weekend last year, was also $13 million.

The blockbuster weekend further fuels what experts say is certain to become a record summer season and, almost certainly, a record year. Still to come this season is a James Bond movie (“Licence to Kill”), the Disney reissue of its animated classic “Peter Pan,” the Steve Martin comedy “Parenthood” and 20th Century Fox’s $50-million underwater thriller “The Abyss.”

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But the man of the hour is Batman. Despite widely mixed reviews, audiences lined up around the blocks all over the country. Some Batfans camped out overnight to assure themselves seats on opening day; there were reports of ticket scalping and counterfeiting. Outside Mann’s Chinese in Hollywood, one person was arrested after a fight that reportedly broke out over tickets.

On any other weekend, the news would have been “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” The film broke all Disney studio records and ended up second to “Batman” with $14.3 million in grosses from 1,371 theaters. It opened with a seven-minute Roger Rabbit cartoon “Tummy Trouble.”

“ ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ ’ was a big surprise to a lot of exhibitors,” said John Krier, of L.A.-based Exhibitor Relations Co.

“Ghostbusters II” still managed to bring in $13.8 million for a 10-day total of $58.8 million. “Indiana Jones,” in its fifth week of release, amassed $8.1 million, for a total of $136.3 million.

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Meanwhile, Disney’s other summer surprise, “Dead Poets Society,” hung in against the competition. “Dead Poets,” which had given adult moviegoers a sanctuary for the first month of summer, continued strong, grossing $7.3 million for a total of $35.5 million.

Before the weekend, there was speculation of a backlash to the “Batman” hype and merchandising blitz and many critics chimed in with negative reviews. But Batfans were undaunted.

Perhaps in an effort to head off the hordes of merchandisers intent on capitalizing on the popularity of “Batman,” Warners arranged with theater owners to hand out a pamphlet of “collectibles and gifts” for Batmaniacs as they lined up to purchase tickets. Items for sale range from a $2 Batman window sign to a $499 Batman rhinestone-studded jacket. Even before the movie had opened last week, collectors had snatched up 50 limited edition sculptures of Batman and the Joker--which sold for a whopping $495, according to Wanrer Bros. distribution chief Barry Reardon.

Those who did not reach into their pockets to commemorate the “Batman” experience exhibited their Batmania in other ways. At a showing this weekend at Mann’s Chinese, the audience served up a “wave"--usually reserved for baseball games or rock concerts--before the curtain.

“This has really become a phenomenon now,” said Reardon. “It’s gone beyond the stage of being a movie. It’s become an event.”

Ask Joel Salvatierra, a 12-year-old Glendale Batfan who saw the movie at one of the 1,219 Thursday-night sneaks: “I wanted to tell all my friends that I’d seen it before they had,” Salvatierra said, as he stood in line reading a publication entitled “Batman the Movie.”

Jennifer Chlebek, 23, who was at the “Batman” sneak at the Chinese, said the words distributors love to hear as she left the theater: “I am going to come see it again.There are no words to describe it. I wish Batman was real. I want to go live in Gotham City.”

Reardon projects that the film will earn up to $67 million over the upcoming week, which includes the busy Fourth of July weekend.

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“The strength of the movies are the kids 10-25 years old,” Reardon said. “I mean if you look at the lines, boy, those kids are there. They’ll be back, too . . . That’s what it takes to do that kind of business.”

The popularity of big-budget movies like “Batman,” “Indiana Jones” and “Ghostbusters II,” raises the question of how smaller-budget, more serious films will fare against the razzle-dazzle of the summer blockbusters.

“It has an effect on smaller films,” said Krier. “It squeezes them out of the market. It’s bound to reduce the playing time for the smaller films and it will be more difficult to find a spot to play them. That’s why you see so few of them released this summer.”

The opening bonanza for “Batman” ends a two-year dry spell for Warner Bros. The question now is whether the film will hold up throughout Hollywood’s most competitive summer?

Reardon boldly predicted that “Batman” will eventually gross between $250 million and $300 million. The last movie to surpass $200 million was “Back to the Future” in 1985.

But the race is on: If “Indiana Jones” regains some momentum with the “Batman” opening out of the way, it could hit $200 million by Labor Day.

“We haven’t even seen that ‘Batman’s’ going to beat ‘Indiana Jones’ yet,” said Dennis McAlpine, an entertainment analyst with Oppenheimer and Co., a New York securities firm.

McAlpine said that people seem to be going to see the big-budget movies just after they debut, but the popularity of films like “Batman” could drop off quickly after the initial rush to see it has waned.

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“People are going to see big, hot movies early,” McAlpine said. “But the play off the movies could be a lot shorter. We used to look for the legs on a film: ‘Could the movie hold up?’ What we’re seeing now is that the legs are a lot shorter, they’re running downhill real fast and it takes something really unique to be a movie that’s going to hold on.”

Already this summer, two blockbuster openings were followed by major second-week fall-offs. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” dropped 60% between its first and second weekends and this weekend, the receipts for “Ghostbusters II” were down 53% from its record-breaking opening.

Krier said the runaway success of “Batman” is part of the trend toward fewer pictures taking larger cuts of the pie.

“Each weekend there’s been another blockbuster released,” Krier said. “This is the first summer that it’s been this extensive.”

To be released on Friday are “Do the Right Thing,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Karate Kid II”

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

Weekend Gross/ Screens/ Weeks Movie(Studio) Total(millions) Average in Release 1."Batman” $42.7 2,194 1 (Warners) $42.7 $19,465 2."Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” $14.3 1,371 1 (Disney) $14.3 $10,403 3."Ghostbusters II” $13.8 2,410 2 (Columbia) $58.7 $5,749 4."Indiana Jones” $8.1 2,103 5 (Paramount) $136.3 $3,881 5."Dead Poets Society” $7.3 1,091 4 (Disney/Touchstone) $35.6 $6,732

SOURCE: Exhibitor Relations Co. Contributing to this story were Sue Martin, Felicia Paik and Rachel Altman.”


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