One ’80s Classic Is A Case Study In How The Box Office Used To (And Still Should) Work – SlashFilm


June 21’s splashiest release was “Rhinestone,” a critically reviled comedy starring Dolly Parton as a country music singer who bets her manager she can turn a tone-deaf cabbie (Sylvester Stallone) into a crooning sensation. 20th Century Fox opened the starry film on 1,630 screens (about as wide as you could release a movie in 1984), while Columbia Pictures mini-platformed “The Karate Kid” on 931 screens. What gives?

Columbia knew from test screenings and reviews that “The Karate Kid” was a stand-up-and-cheer sleeper smash in the making (from, coincidentally, John G. Avildsen, the director of “Rocky”), whereas Fox was well aware they had a star-studded, smash-and-grab stinker. Audiences were aware, too, which is why “Rhinestone,” despite Sly being the biggest box office draw in Hollywood at that moment, finished fourth that weekend with a paltry $5.4 million gross. Meanwhile, “The Karate Kid” was a close fifth with $5 million. No need for alarm, right?

Budgeted at $8 million, Columbia wasn’t going to take a hit regardless of how “The Karate Kid” performed. But, again, they had high hopes, and that opening $5,400 per screen average (compared to “Gremlins” posting a $7,558 per screen in its third week of release) indicated that the rave notices hadn’t quite hooked ticket buyers. The fate of Avildsen’s film would be determined by word of mouth. Surely, the uplifting tale of a bullied new kid who, emboldened by the wise/unconventional training of an Okinawan-born World War II veteran, takes on his high school tormentors — and, after absorbing beating after beating, bests the alpha villain in a prestigious karate tournament on one good leg with that cool-looking crane kick would win moviegoers over.

The film’s second weekend was crucial, and that’s when “The Karate Kid” nearly got waxed off the nation’s screens.

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