As Hollywood closes the books on its 1990 holiday season, a handful of winners continues to cheer one of the busiest movie times of the year. Meanwhile, a larger group of losers would just as soon forget the holiday season ever happened. A last-minute rush did push total ticket sales for the year to $5.02 billion, just a shade under 1989’s record haul of $5.03 billion. The bad news, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, is that inflated ticket prices accounted for near-record grosses, while the actual number of tickets sold amounted only to about 1 billion, down nearly 10 percent from last year.
Ticket sales may be falling off, but Twentieth Century Fox, the studio whose good fortune it was to release the resounding hit Home Alone, probably hasn’t noticed. The housebound comedy starring 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin has rung up more than $194 million since opening on Nov. 16 and is still the No. 1 box-office draw.
Meanwhile, other studios are writing off their holiday entries like so much discarded tinsel. Warner Bros.’ heavily hyped The Bonfire of the Vanities has earned little more than $15 million. Havana, the Universal Pictures Casablanca wannabe that cost approximately $55 million, folded with just $8 million in hand — a major embarrassment for its star, Robert Redford. And Paramount Pictures’ Almost an Angel, starring Aussie Paul Hogan, proved no ”Crocodile” Dundee, earning a minuscule $6 million. Amid the seasonal mix of glee and gloom, a few interesting patterns have emerged:
KIDS ARE TICKET BUYERS, TOO
Baby Boomlets, the newly arrived children of the baby-boom generation, turned their allowances into a potent box-office factor. Their repeat visits to Home Alone, which will no doubt upstage Ghost ($208 million and still counting), should ensure its position as 1990’s most successful release. Home could even go on to challenge the 1989 champ, Batman ($251 million). Kids also clamored to see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop, but its PG-13 rating and publicity about the film’s violence may have put off some parents. Still, Cop has taken in some $62 million so far. Moviegoers also picked their way judiciously through the two kid-driven sequels, shelling out $63 million for Three Men and a Little Lady and $39 million for Look Who’s Talking Too, far less than they spent on the two original movies.
UNDERDOGS ARE TOPS
Kevin Costner’s revisionist Western, Dances With Wolves, struck gold (more than $86 million to date and sure to climb into the magic $100 million circle) with its positive portrayal of Native Americans. Tim Burton’s whimsical fantasy, Edward Scissorhands, exuding sympathy for its peculiar protagonist, carved out nearly $43 million for itself. And Rob Reiner’s horrifying Misery scared up just over $50 million.
STARS, NO GUARANTEE
Robert Redford’s only consolation was that several other veteran box-office draws also fell far short of their usual marks. Sylvester Stallone didn’t have to subtitle his Rocky V ”The Final Bell”; with a disappointing take of $38.8 million, the series is clearly down for the count. Cher’s Mermaids has done less than swimmingly, with $27 million to date. Clint Eastwood’s The Rookie stalled at about $20 million. And despite its star power, The Russia House dimmed at about $20 million.
AN OFFER OSCAR CAN’T REFUSE?
The cliff-hanger of the season remains The Godfather Part III, Francis Ford Coppola’s $55 million attempt to bring the Corleone saga to a close. It opened like gangbusters, setting a Christmas Day record of $6,387,271 in its first 24 hours. But the drama’s box-office clout has been fading fast. Although it has squeezed more than $56 million from ticket buyers so far, the film needs the support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in the form of Oscar nominations, which will be announced on Feb. 13. In the meantime, box-office momentum is passing on to movies such as Awakenings, Hamlet, and Alice, which were limited Christmas releases and are just now entering the national market. Can Godfather III still pull it off? To steal a phrase from Hollywood’s newest box-office don, Macaulay Culkin, ”I don’t think so.”