A year ago, we were in the thick of Hollywood's summer of "Batman," in which that one film relentlessly swamped the competition. This summer is more of a horse race, but last week's opening of "Days of Thunder" has confirmed a curious pattern: Virtually every major film to open this summer has done well -- but not quite as well as expected.

Considering Tom Cruise's box office clout, "Thunder" looked to be one of the surest bets of the season, and the $21.5 million it earned in its first five days was impressive enough. Still, when you figure that $6 million of that came last Wednesday and Thursday, making the three-day weekend total $15.5 million, the figures don't look so good; in fact, in its first weekend "Days of Thunder" made less than "Total Recall" did its first weekend, and also less than "Back to the Future III," "Dick Tracy," "Another 48 Hrs." and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." And while some folks were skeptical about the box office potential of a film about auto racing regardless of its star, nobody in Hollywood expected that Cruise would have to settle for the sixth-best opening weekend of the year.

'Tracy' Tally

Now that its special high-priced T-shirts-for-tickets screenings are three weeks in the past, Disney has run out of creative ways to figure out its "Dick Tracy" grosses. So in a head-to-head comparison with the previous week, Warren Beatty's film fell a sizable but not fatal 35 percent last weekend. That's a bigger drop than "Total Recall" or "Another 48 Hrs.," and the same size as "Gremlins 2" -- but it's not nearly as drastic as the 55 percent fall taken by "RoboCop 2," which looks to be in serious trouble after only two weeks. In some theaters it has already been downgraded to a double bill, a serious blow to Orion Pictures, which is suffering from a string of recent box office disappointments.

Dreyfuss's Big Visions

In an interview last fall, Richard Dreyfuss spent some time detailing the projects he'd really like to make, all of which involved historical figures: Ulysses Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Aaron Burr and Adolf Hitler, among others. But at the time Dreyfuss -- a fan of movies of the '30s and '40s, when "the platform was greater and the issues were larger" -- said he'd have to take those projects to the small screen. "In movies nowadays, the themes are smaller," he said. "You're not gonna see cavalry charges anymore, and you're not gonna see historical epics and sagas, and those are the kinds of movies that moved me and changed me and taught me. For cost reasons and the belief that people won't go to see them, they're dead in movies. So I'm gonna try to do some of this on television."

But the climate for historical motion pictures may be more hospitable in the wake of successes like "Glory": Dreyfuss has just signed a deal with Hollywood Pictures -- an offshoot of Disney -- to produce and star in a film version of "The Proud and the Free," the Howard Fast novel about a mutiny in the Citizens Army in Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War. Dreyfuss has just left another Hollywood Pictures project, "Randall & Juliet," for the usual reason, "creative differences."

Ratings Appeals

The motion picture ratings board will hear appeals next week from two more movies that were recently rated X. "Frankenhooker," which has already lost one appeal, has another scheduled; in addition, "Eat a Bowl of Tea" director Wayne Wang's "Life Is Cheap ... but Toilet Paper Is Expensive" will appeal its rating. Wang's film reportedly earned the X rating less for its sex scenes than for an explicit scene in which chickens are killed ... "The Return of Superfly," a long-delayed sequel to the 1972 action film, will be released late this summer. Since original "Superfly" star Ron O'Neal is over 50 years old, soap opera star Nathan Purdee has the title role this time around ... And the trailer to "Predator 2," a sequel that follows the alien creature from the first "Predator" -- but without that film's star, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- has been getting a vociferous response in some L.A. theaters: shouts of "Where's Arnold?"