On the whole, last year's movies did exceptionally well at the box office, and for the first part of this year it looked as if 1988 might well be another moneymaking year for Hollywood. But it turns out that the optimistic predictions after a record-breaking January were almost all due to old movies, not new ones: 1988 has yet to produce a solid hit of its own, and last weekend the top seven films made 28 percent less than the top seven a year ago.

A couple of 1987 holdovers continue to do well, though "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Three Men and a Baby" (Disney's two biggest-grossing films ever, with "Three Men" holding a hefty $60 million lead) both fell by more than 25 percent during the previous weekend, while "Moonstruck" dropped 17 percent.

As for more recent films, only Roman Polanski's "Frantic" showed much drawing power: "Shoot to Kill" and "Action Jackson" are dropping fast, and "She's Having a Baby" has just about run its course. And to continue the trend of a lackluster 1988, none of today's big openings -- "Switching Channels," the long-delayed "The House on Carroll Street" and Richard Pryor's "Moving" -- has the kind of buzz that would suggest a potential hit.

The Film Market's Crop

There are plenty of potential hits up for sale in Beverly Hills this week -- at least, that's what the moviemakers who've come to the American Film Market would like distributors to believe. The event is an annual motion picture swap meet at which more deals are reportedly made than at any other film festival or movie market in the world: This week 228 sellers are showing 335 movies a total of 594 times to prospective buyers.

Word is that this year's crop of Film Market movies is classier and less exploitation- and horror-oriented than usual. But the movies offered run the gamut from Diane Keaton and Carol Kane in "The Lemon Sisters" to the recent TV movie "Elvis and Me," from Meryl Streep in "Evil Angels" to "Evil Altar," "Evil Clutch" and "Evil Valley, U.S.A." And there are still plenty of low-budget action, sci-fi and sex movies up for grabs. AFM participants, for example, are offering "Maniac Cop" ("You have the right to remain silent ... forever"), "Death Spa" ("You'll sweat blood"), "Bimbo Barbeque," "Curse of the Cannibal Confederates," "Redneck Zombies" and "Demented Death Farm Massacre."

The Soviet Union brought several films to the AFM as well, though those offerings don't have the kind of catchy titles that Hollywood turns out. "A Forgotten Tune for the Flute" ("a satirical comedy") and "Picture of a Woman With a Wild Hog" ("a psychological detective story") are two Soviet movies available for distribution. At the same time, the chairman of the U.S.S.R.'s state-run movie industry says the Soviets are planning more than two dozen productions with outside companies, most of them from capitalist countries. He also said a plan is underway to open a theater in Los Angeles to show Soviet films, and one in Moscow to show American movies.

Locating Locations

Downstairs from the AFM, the Beverly Hilton Hotel also played host to film commissions from 41 states (plus the District of Columbia), 46 out-of-state cities and seven foreign countries. They came to lure moviemakers away from California as part of Location Expo '88 -- they came, in other words, to encourage what is called "runaway production" and is considered such a serious problem in California that legislative remedies have been considered in an attempt to keep moviemakers -- and the dollars they spend in a community -- in the state. At the Location Expo, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Texas had the largest number of separate representatives (the state commissions, plus seven or eight city commissions each); Arizona had what was reportedly the most expensive booth, a $9,000 setup; and Pennsylvania had one of the most popular giveaways in free Hershey's candy.

California, meanwhile, made sure that visitors remembered who was hosting the affair: Not only did the state have seven separate booths, more than any other state, but those seven were situated immediately inside the front door of the Location Expo.