The last time an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie opened it had the built-in advertising advantage of being a sequel with an internationally popular star. Eventually, "Terminator 2--Judgment Day" led all other films as 1991's box-office champ.
That's one question absorbing the film industry this week as Friday's opening of Schwarzenegger's "Last Action Hero" nears. The question has become especially thorny after the $50.2-million premiere weekend gross for Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," and in the aftermath of two scathing reviews of "Last Action Hero" that appeared Monday in the Hollywood trade newspapers Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter.
Both big-budget, special-effects-ladened films have been positioned by their distributors as summer blockbusters. Columbia Pictures' "Last Action Hero" is an action-fantasy story about a boy who joins his favorite movie hero on screen.
As of Tuesday, advance-ticket sales for "Last Action Hero" were behind the level that "Jurassic Park" had attained at the same point before it opened, according to one source in the exhibition business.
Said MovieFone's J. Russell Leatherman, "Jurassic Park" was "the biggest advance sale we've ever seen." The number of tickets sold in the 10 major cities, including the Los Angeles market, where MovieFone operates was, "in the hundreds of thousands." Leatherman said he was unable to provide a specific number for either "Jurassic Park" or "Last Action Hero" at the request of the company's clients.
Last weekend, "67% of all seats for evening showings of 'Jurassic Park' in Los Angeles and New York were sold by phone," Leatherman said.
A spokesman for Columbia said the studio was encouraged by the opening of "Jurassic Park" because it confirms that the appetite for movies can expand. "What happened to 'Jurassic Park' is great for Universal and it's great for the business," said Mark Gill. "We expect the two movies will have the vast majority of the pie this weekend."
Gill said, "There is absolutely plenty of room for both pictures to do well."
Columbia anticipates an opening of "at least $20 million" for the film's first weekend, Gill said. The studio plans to get the ball rolling with a Thursday night preview at about 1,300 theaters. Then on Friday it opens in about 2,300 locations nationally.
Historically, summer seasons have produced a number of $100-million-plus movies. The summer of "Terminator 2" (which grossed $205 million) also saw Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood--Prince of Thieves" hit $170 million.
Meanwhile, after taking in $8.6 million Monday and estimating a comparable Tuesday, Universal Pictures put "Jurassic Park's" gross to date at about $68 million. For comparison, $8 million is considered a very good gross for a full, Friday-Sunday weekend when business is the heaviest. For a single weekday, it is phenomenal.
With so much heat, some exhibition sources believe "Jurassic Park" will hit $100 million by Saturday, which would be the film's eighth day of release, and the fastest that mark has been achieved. The original "Batman" in 1989 reached $100 million in 10 days.