‘Indiana’ whips up a near record

Times Staff Writer

Indiana Jones may be a senior citizen, but the swashbuckling archaeologist can still dig up box-office gold.

Since opening Thursday, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” has swept through theaters, collecting an estimated $311 million worldwide through Monday. In North America, the action film rang up $151 million over five days, snatching the second-largest box-office total for a Memorial Day weekend opening. It fell just $2 million shy of the record set last year by “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

“For bragging rights, the filmmakers may have wished it would have overtaken ‘Pirates,’ ” media analyst Harold Vogel said. “But there’s no denying that these are very impressive results.”


Paramount Pictures executives credited the movie’s performance to its broad intergenerational appeal. Two-thirds of those in the audience were older than 25. Three out of 10 were parents who took their children to see the film.

“There are a lot of adults who fondly recall the ‘Indy’ franchise from their childhood, and they all wanted to share it with their children,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman, who took his three adolescent sons to see the film Monday.

Climbing ticket prices make historical comparisons tricky.

“Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith,” which debuted in 2005, took in $173 million in five days, the highest domestic gross in history. But ticket sales averaged $6.41 that year, according to Media by Numbers, a research firm based in Encino. This year, ticket prices are averaging $7.08, which would bring the inflation-adjusted total for “Revenge of the Sith” to $192 million.

Varying launch dates add another layer of complexity when it comes to comparisons. “Pirates,” for example, trickled into theaters on a Thursday, in limited locations and only for evening shows, while “Crystal Skull” debuted Thursday morning in full force.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by George Lucas, “Crystal Skull” stars a 65-year-old Harrison Ford who delivers a few wry remarks in the movie about his age.

It’s likely that the trio will have the last laugh when final sales are tallied. In an unusual arrangement, Spielberg, Lucas and Ford agreed to defer their payments until after Paramount has recouped its expenses by pulling in about $400 million in revenue, according to studio sources. After that, the three will split $7 of every $8 the movie grosses, with Paramount taking the remainder.


Based on its performance thus far, Paramount has estimated that the movie’s total worldwide box-office figure could be $600 million to $700 million, according to studio sources.

Paramount’s Moore expressed optimism that “Crystal Skull,” which is rated PG-13, would extend its momentum into next weekend, when the only new releases are expected to be the R-rated “Sex and the City” and “Strangers.”

“This will continue to be the top family film,” Moore said, noting that summer vacation also will help as schoolchildren flock to theaters.

Coming in second this weekend was another family-oriented film, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.” Now in its second week in theaters, the movie, from Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, took in $28.6 million in North America over the four-day weekend, down from $55 million last weekend.

“That’s a pretty steep drop,” Vogel said. “Disney, of course, would have liked to see it be stronger, but they knew what they were up against.”

The Indiana Jones franchise, created by Lucas in 1981, has demonstrated stamina over the years. The first three films grossed more than $1.2 billion at the box office worldwide. And the current film is on track to best its predecessors, despite the graying temples of its hero.

“The movie’s in great shape,” Moore said, “and it feels like it’s going to have a great run.”