‘Backdraft’ Burns ‘Hawk’s’ Wings at the Box Office


The producers of “Backdraft” were out of town but eager to talk to the media on Tuesday, following the first-place opening of their film at the box office during the Memorial Day weekend. Meanwhile, the producer of “Hudson Hawk,” the action film starring Bruce Willis, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

The contrast reveals much about the fortunes of the major movies that opened on what is traditionally the first big moviegoing weekend of the bountiful summer season--a time from Memorial Day to Labor Day when about 40% of all movie tickets for the year are sold.

“Backdraft” was the winner of this year’s derby, selling $15.7 million in tickets over the Friday through Monday period; “Hudson Hawk,” in about 200 more theaters, did less than half the business of “Backdraft.”


The tally for “Backdraft” was a film industry record for a Memorial Day weekend opening of a non-sequel film, according to distributor Universal Pictures. The record had been set by Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra” in 1986.

(Last year’s Memorial Day weekend winner was, in fact, a sequel, “Back to the Future, Part III,” which took in $23.7 million at the box office.)

According to Exhibitor Relations, a company that tracks box-office numbers for the industry, overall ticket sales this Memorial Day weekend were nearly level with last year. The 16 major movies in the marketplace last year grossed an estimated $69.6 million, a figure matched this year by 18 releases.

“We’re excited and relieved,” “Backdraft” co-executive producer Brian Grazer said from Billings, Mont. (That’s where Grazer and his Imagine Films Entertainment partner Ron Howard and “Backdraft” director are making their next film, “Far and Away,” starring Tom Cruise.)

“We’re in a very competitive market, on the most competitive date of the year,” said Grazer. “The relief is because it’s kind of like playing in the World Series.”

Grazer said he and Howard adhered to “our usual movie-opening tradition” and spent the early part of the weekend driving around Los Angeles, “checking out the theaters and watching the expressions on moviegoers’ faces.”

In contrast, there was no comment from “Hudson Hawk” producer Joel Silver. A spokesman said that Silver was out of town.

The movie from Tri-Star Pictures, about a cat burglar, took in only $7.1 million--sharply less business than industry analysts expected. It ended up in third place. Given “Hawk’s” low opening numbers, and almost no word of mouth to sustain it, insiders believe it is doubtful the film, which had an estimated production budget of $45 million, can develop momentum at the box office next weekend. If so, it would be the second box-office flop in a row for star Willis. His last film was “Bonfire of the Vanities,” which was released in December.

Among the other films, Disney/Touchstone’s “What About Bob?,” a comedy starring Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray, improved business and added to its number of screens in its second weekend of release, generating an estimated $11.2 million in sales.

Early estimates had put MGM/Pathe’s female buddy picture “Thelma & Louise” in fifth place, but final figures pushed it to fourth position with $6.1 million in ticket sales. It traded places with “Only the Lonely,” starring John Candy, which collected $6 million.

Other new releases over the weekend debuted poorly: “Drop Dead Fred” from New Line Cinema did an estimated $3.6 million and Disney’s “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” only sold $2.7 million worth of tickets.

Madonna’s concert film “Truth or Dare” continued to pull strong numbers, selling another $2.5 million in tickets over the four days, for a total of $8.4 million after two weeks of wide release.

Weekend Box Office

Weekend Gross/ Screens/ Weeks in Movie (Studio) Total (millions) Average Release 1. “Backdraft” $15.7 1,852 1 (Universal) $15.7 $8,490 2. “What About Bob?” $11.2 1,608 2 (Touchstone) $23.7 $6,985 3. “Hudson Hawk” $7.1 2,071 1 (Tri-Star) $7.1 $3,420 4. “Thelma & Louise” $6.1 1,179 1 (MGM/Pathe) $6.1 $5,175 5. “Only the Lonely” $6 1,521 1 (Fox) $6 $3,943

SOURCE: Exhibitor Relations Co.