Disappointing year at the movies ends with a final-week bonanza

LOS ANGELES .. — LOS ANGELES -- The 1991 moviegoing year ended with the strongest holiday box-office season in history.

It was an uplifting conclusion to a disappointing year in which total North American gross receipts hit an estimated $4.85 billion, off about 3 percent from 1990's $5 billion. It will go down as the third-biggest box-office year of all time, behind 1990 and history's best, 1989.


The actual number of tickets sold, however, was way down, at last count below a billion for the first time in 15 years. So 1991's good performance is in large part attributable to ticket-price inflation.

"Hook" continued to lead the pack through the first weekend of the new year. With another $11.5 million added to its treasure trove, Steven Spielberg's Peter Pan pirate adventure reached a four-week total of $82 million; still not enough for the mega-expensive production to turn a profit, and less than the LTC $100 million it was once projected to accumulate by year's end.


"Father of the Bride" moved up a notch from its mid-holidays weekend position. The second-place Steve Martin comedy lost a mere 15 percent of its previous week's business, too, boding well for a long and happy life with audiences, who tend to grow fickle with most holiday films once regular work weeks resume.

"Bride" traded places with "Beauty and the Beast." With $82.5 million collected so far, the Disney feature is poised to pass Disney's "The Little Mermaid" this week as the highest first-release gross ever set by a full-length cartoon.

Also nearing a milestone: ninth-ranked "The Addams Family," which, with a $98.4 million total through Sunday, is about to become the first $100 million-grossing film released since "Terminator 2."

Also holding on to healthy percentages of their outstanding Christmas-week audiences: fourth-placed "The Prince of Tides," fifth-placed "The Last Boy Scout," sixth-ranked "JFK," seventh-seeded "Bugsy" and 10th-placed "My Girl."

In fact, with such recent releases as "Rush," "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Grand Canyon" doing well in limited release, and early starters like "Star Trek VI" and "Cape Fear" coasting comfortably on the far sides of their break-even points, the year-end consumer coin was unusually evenly distributed throughout the 1991 season.