Whether Kevin Costner is riding the prairie or roaming Sherwood Forest doesn't seem to matter to American moviegoers. The actor's latest film, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," grabbed a whopping $25.6 million at the nation's box office over the weekend, the eighth biggest opening of a movie ever.
For Hollywood, the opening of "Robin Hood" finally provided the arrow that found the bulls-eye in a summer that so far has been merely target practice.
None of the movies opening since the usually lucrative summer moviegoing season began on Memorial Day weekend have had anywhere near the impact of "Robin Hood."
The Bruce Willis vehicle "Hudson Hawk," which reportedly cost $50 million to $55 million, has nearly disappeared from box-office charts; the Tri-Star Pictures release has brought in only $15.7 million since the Memorial Day weekend. The Ron Howard-directed "Backdraft" from Universal Pictures hasn't performed as strongly as expected (about $46.6 million in four weeks also). The more recently arrived "City Slickers," starring Billy Crystal, is doing excellent business ($30.6 million in two weeks), although its pace isn't that of a blockbuster-in-the-making.
At Warner Bros., the distributor of "Robin Hood," there was unabashed merriment on Monday about the weekend's booty.
"The summer always needs a good Saturday afternoon serial kind of movie . . . a roller-coaster ride," said Robert Friedman, Warner president of worldwide advertising and publicity. "This movie clearly has what the audiences want. . . . They're cheering at the end."
Friedman acknowledged the movie's generally negative reviews, but asserted that "Pretty Woman," "Ghost" and "Home Alone" also got similar treatment.
"There is no question the public is going despite the reviews. There seems to be a discrepancy between what the audience wants and what the critics like."
The Warner executive attributed the lion's share of the public's response to Costner, who plays the legendary 12th-Century English rogue who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.
Costner, of course, is riding high in popularity polls at the moment on the crest of the international box-office hit and Oscar-winning "Dances With Wolves," which he directed and starred in.
Friedman said "Robin Hood's" weekend figures were the second-best opening of a non-sequel film, after the studio's own "Batman," which debuted in early summer 1989 and went on to gross about $253 million in the United States.
Despite the impressive numbers for "Robin Hood" and "City Slickers," the weekend's total box-office take will end up slightly under the comparative week from last year, according to estimates made by John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co., a firm that tracks box-office figures.
Ticket prices have inched up, Krier said, but even so, box-office numbers will be lower, meaning there were fewer tickets sold across the country.
Among other weekend results, Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" seems to have benefited from publicity surrounding the film about interracial love, generating $13.1 million in ticket sales to date. Based on the movie's initial week's results, distributor Universal increased the number of screens over the weekend from 636 to 773.
To date, the Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss comedy "What About Bob?" has brought in $45 million; the soap opera spoof "Soapdish," with Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Robert Downey Jr. and Whoopi Goldberg, has made $19.3 million, and "Thelma & Louise," starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, has done $21.1 million.
And "Home Alone," which was released in November, continues to generate enough business at the box office to put it in 10th place for the weekend. It brought in nearly $868,000, to bring its total to date to $276.3 million, the third-highest grossing film of all time in the U.S.
Weekend Box Office
Weekend Gross/ Screens/ Weeks in Movie (Studio) Total (millions) Average Release 1. "Robin Hood" $25.6 2,369 1 (Warner Bros.) $25.6 $10,817 2. "City Slickers" $11.3 2,001 2 (Columbia) $30.6 $5,634 3. "Backdraft" $5.2 1,983 4 (Universal) $46.6 $2,625 4. "Jungle Fever" $5.19 773 2 (Universal) $13.1 $6,720 5. "Don't Tell Mom ... " $3.4 1,817 2 (Warner Bros.) $9.7 $1,854
SOURCE: Exhibitor Relations Co.