A week ago, it was the urban romance "Poetic Justice" starring Janet Jackson that reigned at the nation's movie-theater box offices. But by the weekend just ended, ticket sales had fallen sharply, by more than 50%.
This week's champ is "Rising Sun," a thriller based on the Michael Crichton novel about Japanese business practices in the United States and starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. The film from 20th Century Fox surged to an estimated weekend gross of $15.5 million through Sunday night, after opening Friday at 1,510 theaters nationally.
But film industry insiders are betting that its moment in the sun will be dimmed by the arrival Friday of Warner Bros.' "The Fugitive," with Harrison Ford as the prison escapee, a role made popular in the '60s TV series of the same name. Even the competition is conceding it may be the summer's second-biggest grossing movie, after "Jurassic Park," and will turn the usually sluggish moviegoing month of August into a bonanza for the film business.
Already, summer season ticket receipts are running 22% ahead of summer 1992. But even more telling, as of last week, this summer is ahead of the all-time record "Batman" summer of 1989 by 11%, according to John Krier of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co.
"Usually by mid-July the business starts tapering off. Not so this year," Krier said. "There are plenty of strong titles coming in August, especially 'The Fugitive.' "
"Rising Sun" opened Friday amid some controversy raised by Asian-American groups concerned that the film's portrayal of Japanese, some as ruthless businessmen, might lead to further "Japanese bashing" or contribute to escalating hate crime.
On Sunday, Fox executive vice president Tom Sherak said peaceful demonstrations were held in front of theaters in four cities--Los Angeles, New York, Washington and San Francisco. "It was all very peaceful," he said. "They made their views known. That's what this country is all about."
Fox, in a statement, said it believes the film depicts Japanese and Americans equally in good and negative terms.
The demonstration in Los Angeles was at the Mann National Theatre in Westwood, where some 30 persons carried signs and chanted slogans. The protest was organized by a number of Asian and human-rights groups, including the Los Angeles-based Media Action Network for Asian Americans.
Another film from Fox, a Mel Brooks comedy, "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," opened in fourth place with $6.7 million for the Friday-through-Sunday period and $10 million since Wednesday, its first day in 1,261 theaters. "Needless to say we're all very thrilled about the way both films opened," Sherak said.
"In the Line of Fire," with Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent and John Malkovich as an assassin stalking the President, came in No. 2, with $8.1 million and a total of $67.8 million.
The family film "Free Willy," about the freeing of a whale from captivity, continued to defy box-office gravity, apparently mostly the result of positive word of mouth and a wider theatrical release. After moving from fifth to fourth place a week ago, this weekend the film rose to No. 3, with a $7-million gross and a total of $35 million after three weekends.
Following fourth-ranked "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" was "The Firm" in fifth place. The Tom Cruise thriller added $6.6 million for a total of $124.5 million after five weekends. The summer's runaway hit, "Jurassic Park," was sixth with $6.5 million and $282.7 million after eight weekends.
"Poetic Justice," from "Boyz N the Hood" director John Singleton, took a dive from No. 1 a week ago when it grossed $11.7 million in its debut weekend, to No. 7, with $5.1 million and a total to date of $21 million.
Eighth place went to "Sleepless in Seattle," which collected $4.8 million and has $90 million after six weekends.
Toward the bottom of the Top 10, the new film "I Married an Axe Murderer" had a lackluster opening with $3.4 million.