HOLLYWOOD -- 'Backdraft,' the Kurt Russell drama about Chicago firefighters, topped the nation's box office in a blazing debut, tallying $15.7 million in tickets sales over the four-day Memorial Day holiday.
The Ron Howard film, the clear winner to emerge after the holiday, which traditionally marks the opening of the summer blockbuster season, took in more than double the amount grossed by any of the five other major films released during the weekend.
Of the other new films, 'Hudson Hawk' took in $7.1 million; 'Thelma and Louise' made off with $6.1 million; 'Only the Lonely' came in with $6 million; 'Drop Dead Fred' grossed $3.6 million, and 'Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken roped in $2.7 million.
'Backdraft,' a Univeral release showing across 1,852 screens, set a record gross for the Memorial Day weekend for a non-sequel. But it fell far short of 1989's 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' ($37 million) or last year's 'Back to the Future Part III' ($23 million).
The weekend's most impressive performance came from last week's No. 1 movie, Disney's 'What About Bob?' The Bill Murray-Richard Dreyfuss comedy finished second with an impressive $11.2 million gross at 1,608 screens and was clearly the favorite among young moviegoers.
The strong performance of 'Bob,' which has grossed $23.7 million in 11 days, underscored the shrewdness of Disney's decision to release it earlier than originally planned to avoid marketplace clutter. Another potential blockbuster, Paramount's soap opera comedy 'Soapdish,' will debut Friday.
The big loser over the weekend was Tri-Star's 'Hudson Hawk,' which came in No. 3 despite the presence of Bruce Willis, a huge publicity campaign and far more screens -- 2,071 -- than any other film. The adventure-comedy, which has been scorned by critics, had a budget that has been estimated at as high as $70 million.
'Thelma & Louise' posted an adequate opening at No. 4 in 1,179 theaters for MGM-Pathe, which was forced to delay releasing the neo feminist road movie because of financial problems. The film, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, has received rave reviews and is likely to see continued solid business.
'Only the Lonely,' which opened at 1,521 screens, was a major disappointment at No. 5 for 20th Century Fox. The studio had hoped the romantic comedy, starring John Candy, would duplicate the success of its smash hit 'Home Alone,' since it was again produced by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus.
'Home Alone' remained a favorite among younger moviegoers over the weekend, grossing $1.9 million at 912 screens for a total take of $271.6 million since November.
'Drop Dead Fred,' a quirky fantasy comedy starring Phoebe Cates, posted an adequate opening at No. 6. New Line Cinema opened the movie on 851 screens.
Disney's family-oriented 'Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken,' the story of a horse jumper in the 1930s, landed in seventh place after opening on 1,662 screens.
Orion's special-effects adventure 'FX2' dropped from No. 2 to No. 8 with $2.6 million at 1,499 screens for an 18-day gross of $15.1 million.
Madonna's 'Turth or Dare' was ninth and continued to perform well with $2.5 million at just 652 screens for Miramax.
Warner's 'Switch,' a man-in-a-woman's-body comedy starring Ellen Barkin, fell from fourth to 10th plact with $2.2 million at 1,004 screens for an 18-day gross of $11.7 million.
Orion's 'Silence of Lambs' fell out of the top 10 for the first time in 16 weeks as it took in $1.3 million at 883 screens for a 107-day total of $119.8 million.
Columbia's 'Stone Cold,' starring ex-footballer Brian Bosworth, headed for box-office oblivion in its second weekend with $1.8 million at 1,724 screens for an 11-day total of $5.7 million. Fox's sequel 'Mannequin Two: On the Move' was facing a similar fate with just $808, 586 at 1,515 screens for an 11-day gross of $2.9 million.
Weekend gross, screens, total gross, weeks in release:
1. 'Backdraft,' $15.7 million, 1 week.
2. 'What About Bob?' $11.2 million, $23.7 million, 2 weeks.
3. 'Hudson Hawk,' $7.1 million, 1 week.
4. 'Thelma and Louise,' $6.1 million, 1 week.
5. 'Only the Lonely,' $6 million, 1 week.
6. 'Drop Dead Fred,' $3.6 million, 1 week.
7. 'Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken,' $2.7 million, 1 week.
8. 'FX2,' $2.6 million, $15.1 million, 3 weeks.
9. 'Truth or Dare,' $2.5 million, $8.4 million, 3 weeks.
10. 'Switch,' $2.2 million, $11.7 million, 3 weeks.