And they're off . . . The holiday sweepstakes got into full swing last weekend, and the prerace favorite has a commanding early lead.

Eddie Murphy's "Beverly Hills Cop," which got a two-day head start on the rest of the Christmas movies when Paramount decided to release it on Wednesday instead of Friday, broke a handful of records in its first five days in the theaters, including the highest-grossing nonsummer weekend ever.

"BH Cop" made more than $19 million in its first five days, $15.2 million of that over the weekend. In doing so, it also set a new one-day nonsummer record on Dec. 7 with $4.4 million, then quickly broke that record by grossing $6.1 million the next day. And if the "nonsummer" designation seems to imply that the film isn't quite in a league with summer record breakers like "Return of the Jedi" and "Indiana Jones," consider that the totals were enough to give it one of the top five openings ever.

One outfit that has received lots of attention because of "BH Cop" isn't sure it likes its new-found fame: the real Beverly Hills cops say they've spent the last week turning down all kinds of offers, including one that would have put the force in People magazine.

The runaway success of Eddie Murphy's latest vehicle is, naturally, good news for Paramount Pictures, which had been the highest grossing of Hollywood's studios for most of the year but lost its first-place position to Warner Bros. after Labor Day. Warner now leads the pack with a 20 percent share of 1984's domestic box office; Paramount is a close second with 18.1 percent, and if "BH Cop" continues its scorching pace it could conceivably close that gap by year's end.

Warner, though, isn't about to roll over. Its big Christmas movie, the Clint Eastwood/Burt Reynolds action comedy "City Heat," did scant business compared with "BH Cop" but otherwise performed well, making $6.3 million in three days. That was only enough for third place on the box-office charts, though, because "2010" made $7.4 million. The strong showing of last week's big debuts is more of a surprise than any individual records. Early December, after all, is thought to be a relatively slow time for movies -- if you believe the conventional Hollywood wisdom, it's simply not a weekend when three movies are supposed to sell almost $30 million worth of tickets.

And Hollywood will find out if the market can support a few more big movies, as films like "Dune," "The Cotton Club" and "Starman" all make their debuts this week.

Already, there's something of a "Cotton Club" backlash quietly starting. After an initial round of reports that said Francis Ford Coppola had made a wonderful movie that would reverse his declining fortunes and put him back on top, the first round of reviewers have suggested that the movie isn't so hot after all ("by no means a disaster" is one of the nicest things Daily Variety had to say).

Meanwhile, producer Robert Evans -- who did battle with Coppola and the film's financiers -- has scheduled a judicious vacation in Tahiti to coincide with the movie's opening. And finally, there's some agreement on how much the movie cost: $47 million, a significant step down from the $58 million estimate of a few months back.

A less ballyhooed film opening Friday is Tri-Star's "Runaway," a futuristic thriller about killer robots and Tom Selleck's latest venture onto the big screen. "Runaway" has already won some distinction in Hollywood: a recent screening drew more laughter than any presumably serious film in memory, both for many of the straight lines in director Michael Crichton's script and for performances like rock singer Gene Simmons' film debut as a villain who apparently spends most of his time perfecting a nasty glare.

Is it terrible, or has Crichton made one of the subtlest comedies ever? Nobody seemed quite sure after watching moments like the one in which a gruff police chief runs a make on two petty hoodlums who were murdered after trafficking in deadly microchips, and finds they both have long Italian names -- that is, mob connections -- and advanced science degrees from MIT and Cal Tech.