The speculation about "Waterworld" is over for the most part. The much-inked-about $175-million production had a first weekend estimated box-office take of $21.6 million on 2,268 screens.
Universal Pictures, aided by acceptable reviews, contained the pre-release damage over production controversy and ballooning costs, and drew in the target adult-male audience for an opening comparable to some of this summer's other top action films, including "Die Hard With a Vengeance" and "Crimson Tide."
World-of-mouth takes over from here. Unless "Waterworld" enlarges its audience demographics, it will probably gross about half its cost. But a better result is not impossible. "The Fugitive" debuted with similar box-office numbers around the same time last year, and went on to make about $180 million.
Thus, break-even-wise (not to mention profit-wise), dry land may be on the horizon for "Waterworld," but it's definitely the distant horizon.
Coming in second over the weekend was Columbia Pictures' "The Net" starring Sandra Bullock, which garnered about $10 million in its debut on 1,906 prints. Midweek and second weekend results will show if the $22-million thriller can be profitable.
The weekend's other debut was the Disney film "Operation Dumbo Drop," which took in a decent $6.3 million on 2,145 screens for sixth place.
Overall, grosses lagged behind the comparable weekend in 1994 when "The Mask" started at $23 million and box-office totals soared to $100 million. This year's crop was doing no better than $85 million cumulatively, though the wealth was nicely spread out. From here, grosses will head south toward Labor Day, with almost no chance of beating last year's record $2.2-billion summer total.
The first-place finish for "Waterworld" gave Universal Pictures the No. 1 slot for seven of the 10 summer weekends since Memorial Day, according to Nikki Rocco, the company's senior vice president of distribution. Universal had "Apollo 13" in the lead four weekends and "Casper" two.
"Waterworld" pushed "Apollo 13" off the No. 1 perch, with the Tom Hanks space adventure dropping to third place with $8.8 million on 2,346 screens. But "Apollo" has elbowed past "Pocahontas" into second place for the summer with more than $126 million. "Apollo" should gross between $150 million and $175 million.
"Clueless" had a strong fourth-place finish with $7 million on 1,922 screens. Add that to its sizzling midweek numbers and the two-week total is $30.1 million.
Also doing well was "Nine Months," the Hugh Grant comedy, which came in fifth with $6.6 million in its third weekend in release. It has already banked $44.3 million.
In seventh and eighth place were two Warner Bros. films, "Under Siege 2" with Steven Seagal, which drew $4.8 million in its third weekend for $36 million to date, and "Free Willy 2," with $4.7 million and, thanks to midweek kiddie attendance, $18.7 million in two weeks.
"Pocahontas," in its sixth week, was feeling the heat of other films for kids. It will be hit with two more, "Babe" and "Bushwacked," next weekend. Grosses and theaters were down to $3.8 million in 1,693 houses. With almost $125 million in the bank, it still has some mileage left, however.
Closing out the Top 10 was "Species" with $3.5 million on 1,942 screens, proving there's always room for a horror movie. Total to date is $53 million.
Meanwhile, "Kids," the unrated fictionalized look at streetwise teen-agers in New York that has some critics in a huff, was expected to break opening weekend records in Los Angeles and San Francisco and increased its take in New York from the previous weekend. Total on 29 screens was estimated at $450,000 with more than $600,000 in the first couple of weeks. The film should be in 250 theaters by the end of August.
The other major surprise on the art-house front was "Belle de Jour," Luis Bun~uel's 28-year-old sex comedy/drama starring Catherine Deneuve, which was performing like a new movie. The French film grossed $353,000 on 69 screens over the weekend and has reached $1.6 million overall.