'Michael' Stars as Christmas' Screen Angel


Christmas Day was indeed spirited for New Line Cinema, whose "Michael" was the surprise winner of the holiday's box-office race. Despite mixed reviews, Nora Ephron's film--featuring John Travolta as a lusty archangel--took in $5.4 million to push aside the two previous weekend leaders, "Jerry Maguire" and "Beavis and Butt-head Do America," which grossed about $3.1 million and $2.7 million, respectively.

The PG-rated "Michael" cut across demographic lines and was as strong in small towns as in big cites, said Al Shapiro, senior executive vice president of New Line distribution.

"Since many theaters didn't open until 5 or 6 [p.m.] yesterday, the true test of how 'Michael' will fare should be today," he said Thursday. "Still, we always expected it to be big. John Travolta is a huge star. The only one who can compete with him is Tom Cruise--and he had his day [in "Maguire"] last week."

In other openings, the critically panned "Terms of Endearment" follow-up, "The Evening Star," took in $1.1 million on 1,263 screens for ninth place. The controversial "Evita" brought in more than $71,000 in two theaters. Shows were sold out at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome, where it set a one-day house record, as well as at Manhattan's Sony Lincoln Square, which added a last-minute midnight screening. The film will open in 21 more cities on Wednesday and go wide on Jan 10.

Also in limited release, Albert Brooks' "Mother" grossed approximately $53,866 in six theaters; Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" did capacity business in three theaters, bringing in more than $30,000 despite a four-hour running time that limited the number of daily shows to three; Gramercy's "The Portrait of a Lady" took in $10,311 in three theaters and "I'm Not Rappaport" $3,081 in two theaters; Columbia's "Some Mother's Son" took in $3,034 on three screens while the studio's "The People vs. Larry Flynt" took in an estimated $48,000 at five theaters. The movie will expand into 16 theaters today and go wide on Jan. 10.

"For 'Flynt,' the top grossers were the suburban multiplexes," said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing. "Since some doubted that it would play 'mainstream,' we were very encouraged by this."

Among the other entries, Wes Craven's "Scream" proved to be successful counterprogramming--finishing fourth with a $2.1-million take on 1,450 screens; "The Preacher's Wife" took in an estimated $1.7 million on 2,008 screens; "One Fine Day" grossed $1.5 million in 1,972 theaters; "101 Dalmatians" grossed about $1.4 million on 2,901 screens on a day considered inhospitable to children's films; Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!" finished eighth with a $1.1-million take in 1,955 theaters; and "My Fellow Americans" came in 10th with a $1-million gross on 1,915 screens.

Expanding into 207 theaters, Fine Line's highly acclaimed "Shine" had a $1,902 per-screen average, second only to "Michael's" total among the top 16 films.

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