‘Back to Future III’ a Fast Draw Against ‘Fire Birds’ : Movies: Memorial weekend opening is no contest. ‘Future III’ takes $23.7 million, while ‘Birds’ takes $6.3 million.


In the third installment of the adventures of time-traveling teen Marty McFly, the pint-size hero--played by Michael J. Fox--winds up in the Old West where he puts his sharp shooting skills (honed on video games) to use against villainous varmints.

At the weekend box office, the diminutive hombre also faced a square-off. But it was no contest: When the dust had settled, McFly--and Universal Pictures’ “Back to the Future III"--had easily taken down Touchstone Pictures’ “Fire Birds,” an action-drama about Apache attack helicopters.

“Back to the Future III,” had ticket sales of $23.7 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend--the official blast-off of the high-stakes summer movie sweepstakes.

“Fire Birds,” the week’s only other major new title, earned $6.3 million, for fifth place.

“Bird on a Wire,” in its second week, proved it has wings. Starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn, the critically lambasted Universal Pictures action-comedy earned another $12.7 million in ticket sales--following a startling $15.3-million opening weekend.


And “Pretty Woman” continues to show great legs: In its 10th week, Touchstone Pictures’ romantic comedy about love with the proper hooker earned another $8.1 million. It has now grossed more than $120 million.

Meanwhile, despite its critical drubbing, Orion Pictures’ “Cadillac Man” is staying on course--fueled by the star power of Robin Williams--with ticket sales of $6.4 million, for fourth place.

The “Back to the Future” opening--among the top 10 in the Memorial Day record books--was an auspicious kick-off for what is presumably the final installment in the Steven Spielberg-produced series, which was launched in 1985 and later continued in November, 1989. (“Back to the Future II” and “III” were filmed back-to-back. “Future II” ends with coming attractions scenes from “Future III.”)

Domestically, “Back to the Future” and “Future II” have grossed $324 million, with “Future I” significantly out-earning “Future II.” (“Future I” had receipts of$208 million; “Future II” grossed $116.4 million.)

But “Future II” had a bigger opening weekend than both “Future I” (which earned $14.9 million over five days, when it was released on July 3, 1985) and the just-out “Future III.” Released on the Wednesday preceding Thanksgiving, 1989, “Future II” had a five-day total of $43 million. But a critical clobbering and poor word-of-mouth took a toll.

Some industry analysts are predicting that “III,” which opened with much more positive reviews, may go on to out-earn “II.”

Still, the opening weekend performance of “Future III” pales compared to last year at this same time, when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” Paramount Pictures’ third and final installment in its hit series, opened with ticket sales of $46.9 million in its first six days.

But, noted John N. Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations Inc., which tabulates box office figures, “this doesn’t mean that the current box office isn’t up to par with last year’s.” To the contrary, stressed Krier, “there are presently more titles performing well--rather than a single, dominating title.”

Rounding out the week’s Top 10: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (New Line Cinema), $2.9 million, $118 million cumulative; “The Hunt for Red October” (Paramount Pictures), $2.1 million, $110.8 million cumulative; “Tales From the Darkside” (Paramount Pictures), $1.6 million, $14.5 million cumulative; “Joe Vs. the Volcano” (Warner Bros.), $821,125, $37.5 million cumulative; “Spaced Invaders” (Touchstone Pictures), $734,724, $13.6 million cumulative.

In limited release at only two theaters in Los Angeles, Castle Hill’s romantic drama, “Torn Apart,” earned $25,120.

As for the future of “Back to the Future III,” it will depend, in part, on the box office muscle of Tri-Star Pictures’ futuristic saga, “Total Recall.” Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, it opens on Friday.


1990 Movie Weekend Screens/ Weeks in Total (Studio) Gross Average Release Gross 1."Back to the Future III” $23.7 2,019 1 $23.7 (Universal) Million $11,740 Million 2."Bird on a Wire” $12.7 1,949 2 $33.4 (Universal) Million $6,565 Million 3."Pretty Woman” $8.1 1,803 10 $120.2 (Touchstone) Million $4,542 Million 4."Cadillac Man” $6.4 1,844 2 $15.2 (Orion) Million $3,509 Million 5."Fire Birds” $6.3 2,006 1 $6.3 (Touchstone) Million $3,170 Million

1989 Movie Weekend Screens/ Weeks in Total (Studio) Gross Average Release Gross 1."Indiana Jones and the $37 2,327 1 *$46.9 Last Crusade"(Paramount) Million $15,913 Million 2."See No Evil, Hear No Evil” $6.1 1,680 3 $23.6 (Tri-Star) Million $3,649 Million 3."Field of Dreams” $5.6 1,093 6 $30.7 (Universal) Million $5,195 Million 4."Road House” $5 1,935 2 $13.2 (MGM/UA) Million $2,582 Million 5."Pink Cadillac” $4.4 1,993 $4.4 (Warner Bros.) Million $2,212 Million

* Opened the previous Wednesday.

SOURCES: Exhibitor Relations Co.