Gee, what a shock, Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World broke a box office record. Far be it from us to begrudge the director his kudos — especially after he made Independence Day’s 1996 opening look like an art film’s. But c’mon, do you really think the guy was gnawing his fingernails?
The only real surprise about last weekend’s $90.2 million opening haul ($92.7 million including Thursday- night previews) was that anyone seemed surprised at all. Universal’s Memorial Day assault was as meticulously orchestrated as the invasion of Normandy. (The film also set an opening day record of $22 million.) After months of dino hype, the studio flooded multiplexes from Newark to Nome, getting the flick on a staggering 6,000 screens domestically. In other words, if you wanted to see a movie last weekend, you almost couldn’t avoid seeing World. ”The lesson everyone learned with Mission: Impossible is, Get the word out fast, get it in as many theaters as possible, then show it around the clock,” says media analyst Stuart Rossmiller of the financial research firm Deutsche Morgan Grenfell.
Clearly, Universal followed the formula to a T. rex. Now the question is, Will the film have legs? Already there are signs that despite the juggernaut start, it may be premature to think that Spielberg’s prehistoric posse will trample Star Wars to become the biggest domestic moneymaker of all time. There are still a few obstacles.
For starters, there’s the body count. While the MPAA granted World the same PG-13 rating it gave Jurassic Park, both critics and parents have complained that the sequel has more carnage. If parents decide their tykes aren’t ready to graduate from kid-friendly Barney to kid-stalking velociraptors, that will affect the film’s word-of-mouth and repeat business. ”I heard a lot of children crying in there,” said 15-year-old Deah Blanke outside a Peoria, Ill., theater last weekend. Counters Universal senior VP of marketing and distribution Alan Sutton, ”It appears a lot more intense than it actually is. It’s a lot different than seeing people blown away by guns.”
Another challenging hurdle is the big-budget troika of June Event Movies — namely Con Air (due June 6), Speed 2 (June 13), and Batman & Robin (June 20). What this competition means is not only will there soon be splashy alternatives for moviegoers, but also far fewer theaters for World. ”With 6,000 screens, not a lot of people got turned away,” says Rossmiller. ”The real test will be getting over these three films.”
Even if World doesn’t get lost in the coming weeks, Spielberg and company have one last challenge to face: finding a fresh premise for the inevitable sequel. ”I see the dinosaurs going to Washington and drinking out of the reflecting pool,” jokes screenwriter David Koepp. ”Maybe they could hit Chicago and guest on Oprah.” Or perhaps they could visit Fort Knox and demand their cut of the loot.