The Sky's the Limit at Box Office : Movies: A total of about $154 million in receipts sets a five-day record. 'Apollo 13' is atop the field with $38.5 million.


Propelled by the $38.5-million liftoff of Universal's "Apollo 13," the Fourth of July stretch proved to be the biggest moviegoing weekend ever.

With about $154 million in receipts, the box-office take surpassed the five-day record established over Thanksgiving, 1992, when "Home Alone 2," "Aladdin" and "The Bodyguard" led the pack.

Following "Apollo," which scored an impressive $17,510 per screen, were Disney's "Pocahontas," with a $23.4-million five-day total, and "Batman Forever," which took in $21.8 million. "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie," from 20th Century Fox, opened at No. 4 with $17 million, edging "Judge Dredd," a futuristic action-adventure picture from Disney's Hollywood Pictures starring Sylvester Stallone, which grossed $16.7 million.

Rounding out the Top 10 were "Congo," "The Bridges of Madison County," "Casper," "Braveheart" and "Die Hard With a Vengeance."

"Usually one or two pictures dominate, but this year there was a particularly strong mix," said John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations, an L.A.-based firm that tracks box office. " 'Apollo' did well, 'Batman Forever' and 'Pocahontas' held strong . . . and though you might have hoped to see 'Mighty Morphins' and 'Dredd' do more, their performance was respectable considering that they were up against some powerhouses. The pie is only so big."

The size of the "Apollo 13" turnout took even Universal executives by surprise.

"We knew we had a well-reviewed movie to which people were responding, but I don't know that we anticipated quite the heights we achieved," said Buffy Shutt, president of Universal Pictures marketing. "The movie--which cut across all demographic lines--is a satisfying thriller with a great ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks, whom audiences love. 'Apollo' was his best opening ever . . . even better than 'Forrest Gump.' "

Though some have speculated that the "Power Rangers" phenomenon might have peaked, Fox Executive Vice President Tom Sherak says the studio was "happy" with the opening.

"The good news is the title 'Power Rangers,' which has great name recognition," he said. "The bad part is that people have the misconception that the film is a TV show for young kids. So far, the audience has been fan-based. Whether it expands beyond that we'll have to see."

Fox's more immediate concern is "Nine Months," a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore, whose July 12 opening may or may not be affected by last week's arrest of Grant on charges of lewd behavior.

"There's no possibility of spin control," Sherak acknowledged regarding "Nine Months," which the studio plans to "sneak" this weekend, "so we're taking the P.T. Barnum approach that any publicity is good. After all, the man didn't kill anyone. If he committed a sin, it was the oldest in the history of mankind. The movie is bigger than any of its stars. We're hoping it will speak for itself."

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