Moviegoing this holiday season continues ahead of last year's pace, fueled by a winning streak of hit films from Hollywood's major studios. To the list that so far includes "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Aladdin" and "The Bodyguard," now add "A Few Good Men," the military courtroom drama directed by Rob Reiner that stars Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore.
In its first weekend, "A Few Good Men" scored a hefty $16 million at the box office, which industry sources said was the biggest opening ever for a non-sequel film in December. Only "Star Trek VI" last year opened larger, with $18 million, while the previous champ for a December non-sequel was 1984's "Beverly Hills Cop" with $15 million.
Weekend moviegoing also pushed the 20th Century Fox comedy "Home Alone 2" over the coveted $100-million mark after only 24 days in release, according to film industry estimates Sunday. Final numbers will be released today.
Led by a succession of hit films since the arrival of director Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula" from Columbia Pictures on Nov. 13, box-office tallies have been bright. Additionally, the pace has been even greater than the lift that is normal for the Thanksgiving-to-New Year's period, a season during which about 15% of all the year's admissions are sold.
According to John Krier of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co., this weekend's business will be about 15% above the corresponding weekend last year. He said the improvement was achieved despite tough winter weather in the Northeast that kept many potential ticket buyers snowbound.
Meanwhile, there was nothing but blue skies in the demeanor of film executives at Culver City-based Columbia and Castle Rock Entertainment, the firms that financed, produced, distributed and marketed the $60-million "A Few Good Men." The movie opened Friday on about 2,000 screens and drew largely mixed reviews.
"You never really know, do you?" said Castle Rock partner Martin Shafer, who was elated by the public's initial reaction to "A Few Good Men." "It could have gone either way," Shafer added, "even with as airtight a package as we have with the star power in this film."
But, he said, "We were as wrong about 'Mr. Saturday Night' (a flop starring Billy Crystal) as we were about 'When Harry Met Sally' (a hit starring Billy Crystal)." Both were among previous films produced by Castle Rock.
Columbia chairman Mark Canton said audience exit surveys are enthusiastic. "We have a movie here with a strong story and stars that will play for a long time," he said.
Canton said the first weekend puts "A Few Good Men" in a strong position to take advantage of the usual boom in box-office business that is expected beginning Christmas weekend. And he predicted that the movie will find a major overseas audience.
The weekend's second-place finisher was "Home Alone 2," with a gross of $8.4 million.
The Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston thriller "The Bodyguard" and Walt Disney's animated "Aladdin" each scored about $7.3 million, according to estimates. The Eddie Murphy comedy "Distinguished Gentleman" grossed about $5.9 million. The Disney company's "The Muppet Christmas Carol" collected about $5.9 million in its first weekend.