'Poetic' Finds Justice at Box Office : Movies: The film takes largest share of weekend ticket sales, despite decision by one Cineplex theater not to run it.


Pop singer Janet Jackson in her feature film debut and director John Singleton's first movie since his acclaimed "Boyz N the Hood" proved a potent combination among moviegoers during the weekend. "Poetic Justice," which opened Friday, landed in first place with an estimated $12.1 million in ticket sales.

As the movie opened, at least one theater complex chose not to show the film out of fear of violent incidents. Two years ago, the first weekend of "Boyz N the Hood" was marred by shootings at a few theaters across the nation--including the 18-theater complex at Universal City--and there has been an ongoing concern among theater exhibitors anytime a movie depicting urban-based minorities or gangs has opened. But no incidents were reported over the weekend for any showings of "Poetic Justice."

Executives at Cineplex Odeon, which runs the Universal City 18 Cinemas, purposely did not book the film there, saying it might draw disturbances to CityWalk, Universal's new development of shops and restaurants adjacent to the theaters.

The decision by Cineplex was criticized as racist by observers within the movie industry and the African-American community.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan said Sunday he didn't know if the Cineplex Odeon movie theater chain was "right or wrong" in not showing Singleton's film, but considered the controversy over the decision another example of a hindrance to business. "Let business do (its) thing. If that's their judgment, that's their judgment. I don't think they should be condemned for that," said Riordan, who emphasized ways to aid business in the city during the mayoral campaign. Riordan made his comments Sunday after appearing on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," broadcast from CityWalk.

As one of the nation's top-grossing theater complexes, a booking at the Universal Cineplex Odeon is considered an important location. Columbia Pictures president of distribution Jeff Blake said his understanding is that Cineplex has agreed to show the film at the Universal complex beginning Wednesday. Generally, violence, if any, crops up on a film's opening weekend.

Singleton was unavailable for comment by Calendar's deadline.

Unlike his "Boyz N the Hood," which had an anti-gang message despite scenes depicting violence, "Poetic Justice" focuses on a love story between Jackson's character Justice, a beautician in South Central Los Angeles and Lucky, a post office carrier played by Tupac Shakur, during a road trip to Oakland.

Also different were the opening weekends of the two films.

When "Boyz N the Hood" opened, it did not have the advantage of a star name (Jackson's current album "janet." is No. 4 on the national sales charts after several weeks in the top spot) or a director who received an Oscar nomination for his first movie.

And it did not open in first place. The first weekend gross for "Boyz" in July, 1991, was $10 million, and it was out-grossed by such films as "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and "101 Dalmatians."

"We're ecstatic about it," said Blake, who noted that "Justice" was playing well in predominantly white neighborhoods as well as the inner cities. In all, the film was on 1,273 screens and had a very strong $9,500 average for the Friday though Sunday period.

"Poetic Justice" took over the top spot among the Top 10 big grossing films from "The Firm," starring Tom Cruise, which had ranked No. 1 for three weekends.

The other major film to open over the weekend was "Coneheads," a comedy based on a "Saturday Night Live" skit, starring Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin as outerspace aliens on Earth. Despite an unusually heavy blitz of TV advertising, the film was headed for what several industry sources pointedly described as a "disappointing" $7-million gross--or sixth place.

Overall, however, it was another big weekend at the box-office. When final numbers are tallied today, the results may produce another $90-million weekend for the film business, maintaining a pace that is putting summer 1993 on a track to be the biggest ever in terms of dollars taken in.

Ranked No. 2 was Clint Eastwood's "In the Line of Fire," a Castle Rock Films production distributed by Columbia. Business was holding steady (off only 13% from the previous weekend) as "In the Line of Fire" grossed $11.4 million. That pushed its total to $54.3 million after three weekends.

"The Firm" landed in third place, with $10.3 million, for a total of $110.3 million after four weekends. "Free Willy" added $8.6 million and moved from fifth to fourth place. Its total is $22 million in two weekends.

In fifth was "Jurassic Park," with $8.2 million and a cumulative gross of $270.7 million since its June 11 opening.

Following "Coneheads," in seventh place was "Sleepless in Seattle," with $5.6 million and a total of $81.6 million.

Other top grossers: "Hocus Pocus," $5.5 million; "Another Stakeout," $5.5 million; "Rookie of the Year," $4.5 million; "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," $2.3 million, and "Son in Law," $2.3 million.

Times staff writer Steven Herbert contributed to this report.

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