Americans spent an estimated $100 million to go to the movies during the weekend--more than any other non-holiday weekend on record.
Four highly commercial, Hollywood-produced films--"The Firm," "Jurassic Park," "In the Line of Fire" and "Sleepless in Seattle"--accounted for nearly 60% of the take.
Family fare such as the baseball comedy "Rookie of the Year" and Walt Disney's venerable "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" also scored big numbers, as did more specialized films such as "Much Ado About Nothing" and the Spanish-language "Like Water for Chocolate."
Although final figures will not be available until today, all indications on Sunday were that the film business was headed for a record weekend, surpassing the $96.7 million achieved during the final weekend of June, 1989, when "Batman" and "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" were going strong.
"Based on what we're seeing now, this is going to be a record summer," said John Krier, whose Exhibitor Relations Co. tracks movie industry performance.
In dollar terms that may be correct, but higher prices for tickets have helped mask the decline in the actual number of tickets sold.
At the current estimated $5.09 average ticket price--which takes into account full price and children's admissions--19.6 million tickets were sold during this weekend. That's down from the 21.7 million tickets sold during the previous record weekend in June, 1989, when the average ticket cost $4.45, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
In the No. 1 position for the weekend was Paramount Pictures' "The Firm," with Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman starring in the adaptation of John Grisham's popular novel about corrupt lawyers. After 12 days in release, "The Firm" has grossed about $74 million.
"What a fast track this summer business is," said Jeff Blake, president of domestic distribution for Columbia Pictures, the studio releasing Castle Rock Entertainment's production of "In the Line of Fire," which stars Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent. "There are four pictures with double-digit grosses. This is really great for the business . . . and it's great to have a piece of the action."
That "action" was a rousing $15.4 million gross for "In the Line of Fire," which was a virtual tie for second place with "Jurassic Park," which Universal Pictures estimated would bring in $15.5 million for the Friday-through-Sunday period.
The "Line of Fire" gross was the biggest opening for any Eastwood film. The actor/director's last movie, the Oscar-winning "Unforgiven," opened last summer with a $15-million gross, noted Castle Rock partner Martin Shafer.
The weekend's take brought the total for "Jurassic Park" to $236.6 million after five weekends in release, making the Steven Spielberg dinosaur thriller the seventh biggest grossing movie ever.
"Sleepless in Seattle," a romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, grossed $10.4 million, for a total of $59.3 million.
"The marketplace can't expand into infinity, but a weekend like this shows that when the movies are good, it does expand," said an elated Tom Sherak, executive vice president of 20th Century Fox, which released "Rookie of the Year."
"Rookie," with $8.9 million, ranked 5th for the weekend. "In a bunch of winners like this, I happily take fifth place. It's like being fifth in the lineup of the '27 Yankees."
The dollar action during the weekend wasn't confined to the major studio titles. Miramax Films reported Sunday that its limited release of "Like Water for Chocolate," a romantic film produced in Mexico, had topped $12 million in 20 weekends, making it the most successful foreign-language film in the United States since the Italian-language "Cinema Paradiso" in 1990. For the weekend, "Like Water" stirred up $592,000 at the box office.
The Samuel Goldwyn Co. release of "Much Ado About Nothing," which bills Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves and others, grossed $975,000 for the weekend.
Among the other major studio releases: Disney's 56-year-old "Snow White" collected $6.2 million, and Warner Bros.' "Dennis the Menace" grossed $5.5 million.
"Son in Law," starring Pauly Shore, brought in $5 million; "Weekend at Bernie's II" opened to $4.1 million; and "What's Love Got to Do With It" scored $3.5 million.
Columbia's much-hyped "Last Action Hero" fell off the list of 10 highest grossers to 11th place, with $2.6 million for the weekend and $44 million since its June 18 opening.
"Cliffhanger" grossed $1.6 million, for a total of $74.1 million to date.