Aliens Arrive! And a Nation Stands in Line : ‘Independence Day’ Tops $11 Million, Making Movie History


An alien invasion paved the way for the best pre-opening box-office receipts in motion picture history, as 20th Century Fox’s “Independence Day” took in $11.1 million, tripling the previous record. Some 68% of the theaters exhibiting the film reported sell-out screenings throughout Tuesday night.

The $70-million sci-fi movie, which officially opened Wednesday, kicked off with preview screenings in 2,433 theaters. The previous pre-opening record holder was 1990’s “Die Hard 2,” which earned $3.7 million in 1,828 locations.

“The numbers are unprecedented,” said Philip Garfinkle, senior vice president of Entertainment Data Inc., an independent company that tracks box-office grosses. “And they don’t include Canada, which didn’t show the movie until 12:01 a.m. since [Tuesday] night was $1 bargain admission night [in Canada].


“With those theaters added, the grosses could double today, exceeding the $20-plus-million one-day record set by ‘Batman Forever.’

“Though there’s always the chance that everyone interested in the film saw it last night, the movie might end up with a $300-million domestic gross and even be the first picture to take in $100 million in its first week.”

For a recent comparison, “Mission: Impossible,” another of this summer’s blockbusters, pulled in $3.4 million in 1,600 theaters the Tuesday night before its May 22 release. “Jurassic Park,” the all-time worldwide box-office champ, had receipts of $3.1 million on 1,412 screens during its preview night, a Thursday in June 1993.

Peter Chernin, chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, chalks much of “Independence Day’s” success up to a finely tuned marketing and distribution plan. Industry sources agree with his assessment that the plan was critical, noting that the $14 million the studio reportedly spent to market the picture is below this summer’s big-budget film norm.

After Fox decided on the Fourth of July weekend a year ago, it generated interest in the movie with a teaser-trailer last December and a $1-million Super Bowl ad. The movie, which was promoted by three trailers in theaters nationwide, landed on the cover of both Time and Newsweek.

“ ‘Independence Day’ also benefited from the fact that it’s a great high-concept movie that’s genuinely satisfying,” Chernin said. “In terms of reviews, it generally received three stars out of a possible four, which is great for a movie like this.”


Tom Sherak, senior executive vice president at Fox, caught the 4:45 a.m. show at Mann’s Village Theater in Westwood--one of 24 theaters nationwide that screened the movie around-the-clock. “People, young and old, were cheering as though it was a rock concert . . . not since ‘Star Wars’ have I seen anything like it,” he said. “In terms of numbers, the fact that it was hot in the West and raining back East didn’t hurt. That’s the kind of weather we pray for.”

The movie, which expands into 2,881 locations today, has a shot at breaking the three-day record of $52.7 million set by “Batman Forever” last year and the one-week record of $78.5 million set by “Jurassic Park.” John Travolta’s “Phenomenon,” which caters to a different audience, is the only new picture opening this week, so the playing field looks clear.

Analysts note that Tuesday’s box-office receipts were up in general, with “Eraser,” “The Rock,” “Mission: Impossible,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Cable Guy,” exceeding their take of the day before--possibly as a result of moviegoers who couldn’t get into sold-out screenings of “Independence Day.” With a nationwide gross of nearly $25 million, Tuesday was the best non-holiday weekday take ever. Though smaller films are being cannibalized by the blockbusters, they say, the marketplace, as a whole, is expanding.

“This summer has generated more competition--and buzz--than any I can remember,” said John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations. “We could conceivably break the 1995 record in which ‘Batman Forever,’ ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘Pocahontas’ led the pack. If attendance keeps up at this pace, in fact, this week could be the highest-grossing one ever.”