Sly’s Back in Peak Form at Box Office : Movies: ‘Cliffhanger’ grabs the largest opening for a non-sequel on any Memorial Day weekend. ‘Made in America’ opens in second place.


“Cliffhanger,” Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo Goes to the Rockies” movie, produced a giant $20 million in ticket sales during the Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally kicks off Hollywood’s summer moviegoing season.

In second place was another new entry, Warner Bros.’ “Made in America.” The Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson comedy took in an estimated $11.3 million. In third, pulling in $8.7 million, was another Warner film, the political comedy “Dave,” with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. “Dave” has a total of $40 million after four weekends.

While the grosses were big, it was clear that this Friday-through-Monday holiday weekend would be no match for last year’s unusually sizzling pace. The top three movies grossed about $40 million this year, while a year ago “Lethal Weapon 3" ($27.6 million), “Alien 3" ($23.1 million) and “Far and Away” ($12.9 million) added up to $63.6 million.


Some analysts had expected a stronger showing for “Cliffhanger.” Nevertheless, the box-office results seemed to indicate good news for Stallone, whose career has languished since the heady days of his “Rocky” and “Rambo” action films. The numbers also cheered “Cliffhanger” producers TriStar Pictures and the financially troubled Carolco Pictures.

“This is the year of Stallone’s comeback,” TriStar Chairman Mike Medavoy said on Monday. His relationship with Stallone goes back to the mid-'70s when Medavoy was an executive at United Artists and the company distributed Stallone’s original, Oscar-winning “Rocky.”

“He had been counted out,” Medavoy said. Noting that his company “also had been counted out” by much of Hollywood for having few films in the marketplace, Medavoy called the “Cliffhanger” opening “a good return.”

The movie, an adventure set in the Rocky Mountains with Stallone as a member of a rescue team and John Lithgow as a merciless terrorist, is expected to have another big weekend this week before the opening of Steven Spielberg’s much anticipated “Jurassic Park” on June 11. Medavoy predicted a gross of $50 million at the end of two weeks.

“A surprising strength of ‘Cliffhanger’ is that 40% of the audience has been women,” Medavoy said. “That’s a higher number than usual for this kind of action-adventure movie.”

On Monday, predictions varied about how much of a downturn there was at the box office during the four days compared to last year’s holiday. When the grosses for all films are added up today, it could be as much as 10%, said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co., a company that tracks box-office data. But Krier noted that last year’s Memorial Day weekend was an exceptionally big one, bringing in 34% more business than the same weekend in 1991.

The bulk of last year’s strength was the result of the business done by sequels to two well-known and popular films, “Lethal Weapon” and “Alien.”

In recent Hollywood history, Memorial Day weekend typically has been propelled by such sequels. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (both sequels to 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) are the two top grossing Memorial Day weekend openers ($37 million and $33.9 million, respectively).

In that context, “Cliffhanger’s” performance was impressive--it achieved the largest opening for a non-sequel during any Memorial Day weekend.

This year’s only sequel was “Hot Shots! Part Deux,” but it opened a week earlier. During the holiday, it drew an estimated $8 million. Its ranking in fourth or fifth place was rivaled by Walt Disney Co.'s “Super Mario Bros.,” a film based on popular Nintendo video game characters, which also grossed an estimated $8 million.

Last week’s No. 1 grossing film, “Sliver” dropped to sixth place. The sexual thriller, starring Sharon Stone and William Baldwin, grossed $7.3 million in four days, down from a three-day total of $12.1 million a week earlier.

The next four: “Menace II Society” with $3.8 million; “Indecent Proposal” with $3.2 million; “Dragon,” with $2.5 million, and “Posse” with $2.3 million.

Warner Bros. executive vice president of distribution Dan Fellman said “Made in America” will have a long playing life, similar to that of “Dave,” a film that has been bucking the normal tendency for business to drop off at the box office.

“Made in America” opened about $1 million shy of “Sister Act,” Goldberg’s hit from last summer.

“Considering we have just had five big films open in two weekends,” Fox executive vice president Tom Sherak said the riches were spread among a number of films. “It was a good start for the summer.” Sherak suggested, as did others, that the weekend’s results may indicate the trend for the rest of the season: Fewer blockbusters and more films dividing up the pie.