If you look at it one way, last weekend kicked off this year's summer movie season in fine form. "Back to the Future Part III" made its debut with the 12th-biggest opening weekend in history, earning a hefty $23.7 million. Plus, "Bird on a Wire" didn't drop as badly as some people expected, making almost $13 million in its second weekend. And at the same time, movies such as "Pretty Woman," "Cadillac Man," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "The Hunt for Red October" either increased their business over the previous weekend or fell only slightly.

But by another token, last weekend was hardly a record-setting Memorial Day for Hollywood: "Future III" pales when compared with the $37 million made by "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" last Memorial Day, while the top 10 films overall made slightly less than their 1989 counterparts. And while the major studio films that opened last weekend ("Future III" and the lackluster "Fire Birds") combined to make a little more than $30 million, that's a significant drop from the $41 million-plus that Memorial Day openings have made in each of the past three years. ... "Future III," meanwhile, opened to considerably less business than "Future II" did last fall; back then, the second installment brought in $27.8 million on its first weekend, though it went on to fade quickly and do disappointing business overall.

It finished in only third place on the box office charts, but "Pretty Woman" reached a couple of milestones of its own last week. For starters, the Richard Gere-Julia Roberts comedy passed "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" to become the top-grossing film to be released this year. That record will probably be broken by the end of the summer, since a couple of upcoming blockbusters will by then have probably surpassed "Woman's" total ($120 million and counting). But the movie also set a record that'll last for a year, at least: It is now the top-grossing film ever released between Jan. 1 and May 1.

Short Takes

Dustin Hoffman will star in "Billy Bathgate," the film version of E.L. Doctorow's best-selling novel. Robert Benton ("Places in the Heart") will direct the movie for Disney's Touchstone Pictures division; he'll start shooting in August. ... And Warren Beatty -- like Hoffman, an actor known to spend months considering and working on projects before he finally commits to them -- will also reportedly make a Touchstone film later this year: He's lined up to star in "The Doctor" for director Randa Haines this fall. ... Sally Field will star in "Civil Wars," a drama that is currently being written by playwright Jack Stetson. The film, which Field's company also will produce, deals with a schoolteacher who lives in a largely black area of Biloxi, Miss.; when her brother-in-law, a Ku Klux Klan leader, is killed in an auto accident, she and her husband try to raise the two racist youngsters. ... 20th Century Fox has signed 20-year-old actor Christian Slater to a deal that gives the studio first right to Slater's film for the next year, reportedly with an option for a second year. The deal comes on the heels of Slater's performance in "Young Guns II," which apparently impressed the Fox brass. ...

Concorde Taking Wing And finally, Roger Corman's production company, Concorde, has signed its first-ever deal with an actor. Of course, Corman is known for making low-budget action films, so it figures that he wouldn't sign a dramatic actor to any long-term deal -- and in fact, Concorde signed up Don "The Dragon" Wilson, a kick-boxer. Wilson starred in "Bloodfist," an action film that cost less than $2 million to make but brought in $4 million in film rentals and considerably more in video, cable and overseas sales. Corman, who's admitted he was "astonished" at the business "Bloodfist" did, also said that with Wilson, Concorde may be able to "build ... a star within our own company for the first time ever." They'll start building with "Bloodfist II," which has already been shot and is due out this fall, and then with "Fighting to Win," another kick-boxing epic that's filming in Los Angeles this summer.