LOS ANGELES -- The bad news for the movie industry: Business continues to be sluggish at the nation's cinemas. Last weekend's generally weak grosses, which show "Hot Shots!" again in first place, confirm that no August film release has excited large numbers of viewers.
The good news: Some newly released films may change all that.
Kenneth Branagh's classy thriller "Dead Again," which received mostly fabulous reviews, placed fifth even though it opened in only 450 theaters. ("Hot Shots!" is playing on nearly 2,000 screens.) The Hitchcock-like mystery made $3.47 million for a fantastic per-screen average of $7,732.
With its 1940s film-noir style, this film could easily draw the sort of older moviegoers who don't go out to the movies that often. Once it opens wider, Paramount could have a major hit on its hands.
(The film stars Branagh, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi, Hanna Schygulla, and Emma Thompson. Lindsay Doran and Charles H. Maguire are the producers, Sydney Pollack is the executive and Dennis Feldman is the co-producer. The original screenplay was written by Scott Frank.
Set in Los Angeles, "Dean Again," stars Branagh as Mike Church, a cynical private detective who specializes in finding heirs and missing persons. He is enlisted to learn the identity of a beautiful woman who has no memory of her own life but is tormented by nightmares from someone else's. Emma Thompson plays the enigmatic woman whom Mike, with unexpected tenderness, names Grace.)
Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox is doing well with two films in very limited release: Joel and Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink," which opened to mostly favorable reviews, made $268,561 on 11 screens, for a per-screen average of $24,415. In its second week, Alan Parker's musical "The Commitments" did almost identical business on the same number of screens. It made $269,653 and had a per-screen average of $24,423.
While the self-consciously arty "Fink" is never likely to have mass appeal, "The Commitments" is slick and entertaining enough to do so once it opens wider in September.
The other new films opening last weekend were lambasted by critics and largely ignored by the public. "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man," a pseudo-western starring Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke, made $2.2 million and placed seventh; its per-screen average was a poor $1,840.
"Defenseless," a thriller starring Barbara Hershey, made $1.6 million and placed 10th. "True Identity," a Touchstone comedy starring British actor Lenny Henry, made only $1.5 million and placed 11th.
With such numbers in mind, A.D. Murphy, analyst for the trade paper Daily Variety, is projecting the industry will gross $1.70 billion for the summer. If that proves correct, it will represent an 8 percent decrease from last year's $1.86 billion. It is approximately equal to the 1988 summer total.