Steven Spielberg went to the movies Friday night to see his new horror creation "Jurassic Park." So did an estimated 9.6 million people who paid a record-devouring $48.5 million during the weekend to view the heavily promoted feature film that has unleashed a wave of dinosaur mania across the United States.
The box-office gross is projected to be the highest for any movie in film history for a non-holiday weekend. Saturday's $18 million alone was the biggest a movie has ever grossed on a single day.
Spielberg, who slipped into a 10 p.m. showing at the Avco Theater in Westwood, saw the film for the first time with an audience. He only recently returned from the Krakow, Poland, location of his next project, "Schindler's List."
The producer-director's mood was described as "ebullient" by Tom Pollock, the chairman of MCA Inc.'s motion picture group, which includes Universal Pictures, the distributor of "Jurassic Park." "Steven was stunned by how great the reaction was," Pollock said on Sunday.
Pollock called the opening "great for the industry" and predicted that the success will invigorate moviegoing for other summer films. It was Universal's first potential blockbuster hit film in several years.
When final totals are released today, "Jurassic Park" is expected to surpass last summer's "Batman Returns," which had held the opening-weekend record with $47.7 million. Both films opened on comparable, non-holiday June weekends. The totals for both also include the gross for preview showings on Thursday night. But with, or without the Thursday gross, both films established new box-office standards.
The only other film to challenge the "Jurassic Park" historic total would be 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," which grossed $52.3 million, but that was generated during a five-day July 4th holiday weekend.
"Jurassic Park" is based on the terrifying novel of the same title by Michael Crichton about a fictional amusement park where dinosaurs have been scientifically re-created. The movie carries a PG-13 rating--the film industry's suggestion that parents are strongly cautioned that some of the contents may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Universal on Sunday said its own surveys indicate that only 2% of the audience was under age 8, while 12% of the audience was ages 9 to 14. The over-15 audience accounted for 86% of all tickets sold, the studio said.
Still, there was clearly a sprinkling of youngsters in the audiences, apparently inspired by the current popularity of dinosaurs.
Two friends--Chris Kaplan, 12, and Rupert Humphries, 10--saw the film on opening day at the AMC Century City 14. They went with Kaplan's aunt. Kaplan thought there were many loose ends that could have been tied up: "The plot was kind of mixing you up . . . but I was on the edge of my seat."
Humphries said he wasn't scared, but Kaplan corrected him: "Don't lie, he was in crash position with his hands over his ears the whole time."
In Orange County, where lines wound out and around most of the record 55 theaters showing "Jurassic Park," some parents were certain their children could brave any Spielberg-created monstrosities, while others were surprised by the film's violence despite media cautions.
A little more than halfway through an evening showing at the Charter Centre, Huntington Beach resident Jenny Cimbers was back in the lobby cradling her upset 6-year-old niece, Ann. "My boyfriend is still in there, he didn't want to miss anything," Cimbers said as she consoled Ann, who had been rattled by a startling dinosaur attack.
"I thought she would be OK, but she was crying too much, and the people around us got mad. I guess I'll see it on video, right?"
In a Costa Mesa line, Roy and Heidy Vest were optimistic that their sons, Benjamin, 7, and Nikolas, 9, could handle any prehistoric horrors. "They see worse on cable, on video and the news," Roy Vest said. Looking down at his sons, one of them wearing a "Terminator" shirt, Vest added that he is more apprehensive about letting the youths see films depicting realistic dangers.
"This is more like fantasy; they know it's not real," he said. "But something like 'New Jack City' or 'Boyz N the Hood,' that stuff scares me , so I wouldn't want them seeing that."
At the Pacific Northridge Theatres on Friday, Michael Esquivel, 10, of Canoga Park said he had a model of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a book called "Dinosaurs." Michael's mother, Rose Esquivel, said that Michael's little sister wanted to see the new movie but was told no.
Sherry Casey of Reseda brought her daughter Kimberly, 6. When asked if she had any reservations about bringing the child, Casey said, "I kind of did. She saw 'Terminator' though." But her reaction to the film was: "I wouldn't recommend it. It was pretty deep."
Some parents said they had not known about some of the more violent scenes in the movie. At the Sherman Oaks showing, Catherine Levin brought her two sons, Jonathan, 6, and Robert, 3. While holding Robert's hand, Levin said, "I wish I hadn't brought him. I didn't know if it was violent."
The opening success of "Jurassic Park" came as no surprise to the film industry, which for months has steered clear of scheduling any other film to open in national release on the same weekend. Because of Spielberg's reputation for producing blockbuster hits, the popularity of the Crichton book and a massive marketing approach, the $60-million production was deemed "the summer film to beat."
The summer's other anticipated big money maker is "Last Action Hero," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, from Columbia Pictures. It opens Friday.
The back-to-back films, plus an array of still-to-come movies featuring such major stars as Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery, is giving the film exhibition business a case of euphoria, said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co. "Summer is really beginning to heat up like it should."
Projections for the weekend also indicate that overall business could reach about $85 million for the weekend, a high mark for June.
The Tina Turner biography movie "What's Love Got to Do With It" also opened over the weekend, but in a small, 58-screen release. It drew a healthy $1.2 million.
The weekend's No. 2 movie is the Sylvester Stallone film "Cliffhanger," which had clung to No. 1 the two previous weeks. It grossed a strong $7.5 million for a total to date of $49.5 million.
Ranking three to five are: "Made in America" with $4.8 million, "Guilty as Sin" with $4 million and "Dave" with $3.2 million.
Contributing to this report were Emily Viglielmo in the San Fernando Valley, Geoff Boucher in Orange County, and N. F. Mendoza and Beth Kleid in Los Angeles.