Family films the moneymakers this holiday season

January 03, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Where have all the grown-ups gone? Not to the movies.

That's the message in the surprising results of the Hollywood Christmas season.

Movies for kids are doing swell. Steven Spielberg's much anticipated "Hook," despite a spate of less than admiring reviews, has proven stubbornly critic-proof, though it still is falling far short of the revenue torrents generated by "Batman," the director's own "E.T." or even last summer's "Terminator 2." But after a somewhat dismal start, the movie has consistently finished first since its Dec. 11 opening, and has made close to $60 million in its first three weeks of release.

Meanwhile, bearing the endorsement of nearly everybody except possibly the president and the pope, Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" continues to draw the vacation dollars. The brilliant animated feature, probably the best-reviewed film of the season and possibly the first animated feature to receive a Best Picture nomination (Golden Globe variety), has earned a total ot $63 million. More importantly, the film, which had slipped in the ratings since its release in early December, rebounded strongly to the No. 2 position.

Surprisingly strong has been the performance of the innocuous '50s retread "Father of the Bride." Definitely an unchallenging picture that offers mild comedy pratfalls, this is a Steve Martin remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracy film. Despite mediocre reviews, the movie has held in the top 5 in the two weeks of its release.

It may be too early to tell about Barbra Streisand's "Prince of Tides." Beneficiary of a huge media blitz, including interviews granted by the reclusive star-director herself, the film nevertheless got mixed reviews and didn't even manage to finish No. 1 in the week it was released, usually a kiss of death in the big-movie high-dollar sweepstakes of the Christmas season. It's unlikely that the passionate admirers of the Pat Conroy novel can sustain the film at the box office, particularly as many of them hate the movie.

The continuing health of "The Last Boy Scout" is good news for Bruce Willis, after the flop of "Hudson Hawk" last summer. The movie is immeasurably helped by the fact that it's the only action picture in the market, the natural destination, therefore, for the male half of the teen-age population that takes over movie theaters in December. Though it probably won't make more than $100 million, the movie will certainly go into the books as a winner (I'd bet it does $50 mil) and do much to resuscitate the Willis career.

"JFK's" a puzzler. The most controversial film of the year -- possibly of the decade -- and the subject, for months, of media frenzy, it has attracted both violent pro and con reviews. Its subject has become a No. 1 American dinner table conversation -- lone gunman or governmental conspiracy -- engulfing families from coast to coast in bitter arguments. It's one of the two big grown-up movies of the season, demanding careful attention, patience, a sense of history and intellectual curiosity.

But not a lot of people are going to see it! The film may actually have been harmed by the excessive publicity and by its director's insistence on showing up on every talk show venue on the tube. The result is that many people feel they don't have to see the film because they already know everything in it. Enormously expensive, it stands little chance now of recouping its investment. If you ask me, it's a conspiracy by the CIA and the American public against Oliver Stone.

Both "Star Trek VI" and "The Addams Family" are hanging on gamely, continuing to earn well with their primarily teen-aged audiences. The bigger hit is "Addams," which currently leads the holiday pack with $88 million, and it will certainly break through TTC the magic $100 million mark. But "Hook" will catch up to and surpass it, probably by the second week in January. "Star Trek VI," reportedly the cheapest of the Star Treks, has already earned $50 million; from here on, it's money in the bank.

And finally, there's the sad case of the season's other grown-up movie, Barry Levinson's "Bugsy." The critics loved it and have showered it with awards. The industry loves it and has showered it with praise. Everybody loves it except the people who have showered it with indifference. They really couldn't be bothered. "Bugsy" opened in the No. 4 position -- and this after getting extraordinary national reviews -- and in its second week has sunk to No. 9.

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