This weekend was a muscleman standoff in more ways than one. While Mike Tyson was chewing off Evander Holyfield's ear in one ring, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage were flexing their best to square off against Hercules in another.
In the early rounds, at least, Paramount's "Face/Off," with Travolta and Cage, was ahead of Disney's "Hercules" by a slight margin, $1.2 million. Both films may have felt the sting of an audience distracted by the Tyson-Holyfield boxing match Saturday night, with many moviegoers presumably staying home to watch the pay-per-view fight instead of attending "Face/Off" or taking the kids out to see "Hercules."
As a result, both Paramount and Disney were hoping for a significant boost Sunday. Until final numbers are released today, the estimated count for the weekend: "Face/Off," $22.7 million; "Hercules," $21.5 million.
"It was so close you almost couldn't put anything between them," said Dick Cook, chairman of Disney's Motion Picture Group. "They're two different films, but they're both big hit movies. Hey, we want them to succeed. We're distributing the film overseas."
In comparing the debut of "Hercules" to previous Disney animated releases, John Krier, head of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, said: "This film will probably end up performing more like 'Pochontas,' " than last year's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." "But 'Hunchback' did over $100 million, and people forget that's a blockbuster. This film has had very positive reviews, and it's got a lot of box-office steam in it. It definitely should come back stronger this week."
Disney's "Hunchback" opened a year ago to $21 million on about the same number of screens as "Hercules." The studio's previous animated features, "Pocahontas" and "The Lion King," opened to $29.5 million in 1995 and $40.9 million in 1994, respectively.
Asked if he thought "Hercules" was affected by the Holyfield-Tyson fight, Krier said: "I just can't believe it had all that much to do with it."
"People are either getting ready for the July Fourth holiday or plan to see the movies during the break. The weekend before is often typically slow. . . . Then again there could just be reasons that we don't know. It happens."
Said Paramount's distribution chief, Wayne Lewellen: "There's no question we were hurt by the fight, but then so was everybody really. Still, if you look back at last summer when 'Eraser' went up against 'Hunchback of Notre Dame,' the ratio spread was about the same."
Whatever the factors, chances are that "Face/Off" director John Woo has to be pretty happy. The Hong Kong director's third Hollywood movie is his biggest opener yet. His 1996 "Broken Arrow" opened to $15.6 million, and his 1993 "Hard Target" opened to $10.1 million.
As for the other big action films over the weekend, most took significant dips in their three-day estimated tallies. Warner's "Batman & Robin," in particular, fell 64%, to third place, in its second week, bringing in about $15.4 million. (To date, the fourth "Batman" film has grossed about $75 million.) Hovering in fifth place was Disney's "Con Air," another actioner starring Cage, dropping 47%, to $5.5 million. "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" declined 45%, to sixth, at $4.4 million (and a cumulative $213 million in six weeks). "Speed 2: Cruise Control" sank to seventh in its third week, with $3.2 million, a 57% plunge. It has grossed a disappointing $37.6 million in three weeks.
The backslide could be even bigger this week with the opening Wednesday of Sony/Columbia Pictures' sci-fi action parody "Men in Black," starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Exhibitors expect it to be one of the summer's biggest performers.
While action films may have felt the punch of the Holyfield-Tyson fight, others seemed to dodge the competitive blow. Sony/TriStar Pictures' "My Best Friend's Wedding" experienced only a 29% dip, to $15.3 million, for fourth place. In its two-week run, the Julia Roberts romantic comedy comeback has already grossed about $49.5 million.
Jim Carrey's comedy "Liar Liar," which has been on the Top 10 list through most of its 15-week run, ranked eighth with an estimated $942,700 and has grossed a cumulative $173 million. New Line Cinema's "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" has been another strong, steady performer, with "Powers" in ninth at $757,000.
The critically acclaimed Orion release "Ulee's Gold," which opened on 33 screens last week, expanded to 103 screens and ranked 10th at $637,000. It has grossed an estimated $1.22 million, and as one exhibitor said, if the pace continues, this film could be shaping up to be another sleeper like last year's "Sling Blade."