In a multimillion-dollar game of one-upmanship, two studios are still fighting for the weekly box-office bragging rights. This was the debut weekend for both Paramount's The Ghost and the Darkness and New Line's The Long Kiss Goodnight. Finishing on top of the box-office charts would be a major marketing coup.

But there are no real Nielsen ratings for motion pictures, which leaves it up to studios to report themselves how much their films make. Everyone knows that a little fudging goes on. "I'm not saying that they're lying, but there's a lot of enthusiastic estimating," said Art Murphy, box-office consultant for the Hollywood Reporter.

The final scoreboard for the weekend reads like this: $9.2 million for Ghost, $9.1 million for the Paramount's The First Wives Club and $9.07 million for Kiss, according to Exhibitor Relations, which compiles box-office stats from studios.

But New Line won't let the story end there.

"I'm happy to know we have the number-one picture in the country and dismayed to know someone would lie about that," said Mitchell Goldman, president of marketing and distribution for New Line.

New Line estimated Sunday that Kiss raked in $9 million for the weekend--a figure that many considered too high. Not to be outdone, Paramount said its films did better with Ghost and Wives hauling in $9.3 and $9.2 million respectively.

So people waited for the final totals, usually released Mondays around 2 p.m., but by 4 p.m. yesterday, there was no word from New Line or Paramount. Each was waiting for the other to blink.

Goldman said his company reported Kiss figures first and Paramount waited to make sure it would top New Line. "I don't think it's an accident [that Paramount's figures came later]," he said. A spokeswoman for Paramount did not return phone calls.

What does all the jockeying really accomplish? "It's for bragging rights more than anything else," said Exhibitor Relations president John Krier. "It's nothing but a short-term game of chicken," said Murphy.

Especially since neither film hit the $10 million mark--considered the sure sign of a hit. "It's an absurdity," said Murphy. "Three days from now no one will remember which film finished 12th and which finished first."

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