Box Office Cold to Stallone’s ‘Lock Up’ Role

Times Staff Writer

Sylvester Stallone’s new movie “Lock Up” is sinking like a stone at theaters, renewing speculation that the actor--among Hollywood’s highest-paid stars--may be losing some of his appeal with American audiences.

“Lock Up,” in which Stallone plays a prison inmate trying to outwit a cruel warden, opened Aug. 4 to ticket sales of about $6 million. Last weekend, ticket sales for the $24-million film dropped an ominous 45%. Industry analysts say that the film will top out at about $25 million at its current pace--a major disappointment for a star whose action films have grossed more than $2 billion worldwide.

Exit polls taken by CinemaScore, a private industry polling service, show that Stallone’s audience has skewed dramatically older in recent years and that not even his hard-core fans were thrilled with the movie.


“34% of (the “Lock Up” audience) were 35 or older, that’s sad,” said Ed Mintz, president of CinemaScore. “Stallone got old and so did his fans.”

Mintz said that only 36% of the people polled after “Lock Up” said “they couldn’t wait” to see it. For a Stallone film, he said, the “couldn’t wait” figure should have been closer to 60%.

The weak debut of “Lock Up” comes one year after Stallone’s “Rambo: First Blood Part III” opened in U.S. theaters to what were--when weighed against expectations--disappointing ticket sales. Taking in about $54 million domestically, the movie grossed roughly one-third the amount of its predecessor, “Rambo: First Blood Part II.” The second “Rambo” film, released in 1985, grossed more than $150 million domestically.

Stallone has reportedly been paid as much as $15 million for a picture and, despite the drop in business for his films here, he has continued to be a major attraction for moviegoers overseas. “Rambo III,” for example, took in $100 million in foreign ticket sales. “He’s a huge star overseas--the numbers back that up,” said one executive connected with his films.

Stallone’s publicist, Paul Bloch, contends that the actor is just as big a star in this country. Stallone’s recent appearances on TV talk shows unleashed a flood of fan mail, Bloch noted, adding that the star annually receives almost a million pieces of mail from around the world.

Officials at Carolco, which co-produced the film with Stallone’s company, White Eagle, declined comment on “Lock Up’s” opening. (Because of foreign and video pre-sales, Carolco stands to profit from the film despite weak U.S. ticket sales.)


However, in an interview before “Lock Up” opened, Carolco co-chairman Andrew Vajna said that Stallone’s U.S. following remains strong. “There’s no question about that, Sly is a movie star,” Vajna said. “When he walks down a street, a crowd forms.”

Despite the domestic performance of “Rambo III,” analysts note that Stallone’s biggest obstacle is finding an audience for his other roles, like the prison inmate he plays in “Lock Up.”

“He’s really established himself in two areas--Rambo-type movies and Rocky-type movies,” said John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations Inc., a box-office service for exhibitors.

Although he has expressed a desire to move away from those two series, Stallone has not had much success whenever he has departed from hard action films. The more sensitive “Over the Top,” in which Stallone played a man trying to regain the respect of his son and win a world arm-wrestling championship at the same time, had a weak $5.1 million opening in 1987 and completed its theatrical run with less than $16 million in grosses. And who can forget his musical performance in the romantic comedy “Rhinestone” opposite Dolly Parton?

His hard action films have all opened much stronger than “Lock Up.” “Rambo III” opened at $16.7 million, “Rambo II” opened at $25.5 million and “Rocky IV” opened at nearly $20 million, according to figures compiled by Entertainment Data Inc. “Cobra,” an action film in the “Rambo” vein, opened at $15.6 million. (Stallone has already committed to doing “Rocky V” and “Rambo IV” installments.)

Stallone will get another shot at a non-”Rambo,” non-”Rocky” movie in “Tango and Cash,” a Warner Bros. production that Bloch describes as a buddy film.


Krier also contends, however, that “Lock Up” suffered from a badly timed release.

“It’s more of a fall picture,” Krier said. By opening in August, “they went up against a lot of big action pictures.”

Officials at Tri-Star, which distributes “Lock Up” in the United States, could not be reached for comment.

Times staff writer Jack Mathews contributed to this story.