Critics and Kevin Costner's bad haircut be damned in eight short weeks, Warner Bros.' The Bodyguard has elbowed its way past $106 million at the box office. ''Twenty years from now, people will be talking about this film,'' says A.D. Murphy, box office analyst for Variety. ''It's one of the most successful melodramas in history and the public has done it.''
The amazing response to a movie that was soundly drubbed by reviewers proves that you don't need great dialogue, a finely tuned plot, or a lot of suspense (does anyone doubt that Houston will live to belt out the finale?) to create a blockbuster. All you need to do is follow these rules:
REMEMBER THE POWER OF WOMEN
''It's tapping into what was two or three years ago an audience taken for granted women 25 and over, the whole Fried Green Tomatoes thing,'' observes film critic Mike Clark of USA Today. But there's something even more intriguing about The Bodyguard's fans: After the first few weeks, during which 60 percent of the largely female audience was over 25 and 40 percent under, the balance tipped the other way. ''It's not only hardworking females who have the fantasy of being swept up, young girls want it as well,'' says Rob Friedman, Warner Bros.' president of worldwide advertising and publicity.
And when a movie appeals to women, it seems, the men follow. ''The motivating force of romantic movies is a female audience dragging men along,'' says Taylor Hackford, director of An Officer and a Gentleman. Women can also be counted on for repeat business. Take Leigh Cogar, 24, a Chicago receptionist who went with her boyfriend the first time and with girlfriends the last two. Or Denise Galonska, 25, a store clerk from Arlington Heights, Ill., who initially attended solo and has taken friends along on six other viewings. ''Anytime you're getting toward $100 million,'' says Variety's Murphy, ''you're getting people going back three and four times.''
A HIT SONG HELPS
''When you find the perfect song that makes the perfect moment, that's the orgasm,'' says Linda Gottlieb, producer of Dirty Dancing, another film boosted by a megaselling ballad. Houston and Arista Records president Clive Davis decided to release ''I Will Always Love You'' as The Bodyguard's first single, and ''it was obviously the right decision,'' says Gary LeMel, president of Warner Music, who worked with Arista on the soundtrack. ''We didn't get it out until a month before the movie. We thought it wasn't enough time usually it takes us two months to get into the top 20. It happened in the first week.''
AND SO DOES A GREAT POSTER
In a romantic movie, it's the money shot: Think of Richard Gere carrying Debra Winger out of that factory in An Officer and a Gentleman. Or Gere carrying Julia Roberts down that fire escape in Pretty Woman. ''The poster represented what this movie was all about,'' says Houston. ''He saves me. That's what bodyguards do they put theirs in front of yours.'' It was unusual not to show the stars clearly, however. ''It's not important to see her face,'' maintains Houston. ''It created mystery.'' Officer director Hackford agrees: ''It's a fantastic image that generates a lot of mystery and romance.'' Several weeks after the movie's release, the newspaper ads did feature head shots of Houston and Costner, but now they're back to showcasing the poster. ''We just wanted a fresh look for Christmas,'' says Warner's Friedman.