Unless the Grinch scares people away from their local cinemas, a new record could be set at the box office Christmas weekend as a half-dozen newly released dramas boasting Academy Award-winning casts will compete with several children's films and other holdovers from previous weeks.
In each of the past three years, a new box-office record was set on Christmas weekend, and with the release of films such as Warner Bros.' "Any Given Sunday" starring Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid and Cameron Diaz, Paramount's "The Talented Mr. Ripley" starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Jude Law, and Universal's "Man on the Moon" with Jim Carrey, industry experts believe movie grosses for Friday through Sunday could surpass $150 million - breaking the Christmas weekend record of $147.5 million set last year, when films such as "Patch Adams," You've Got Mail" and "Stepmom" were hot items.
It would not be the first record set this year. Already, the 1999 total box office gross at U.S. cinemas has exceeded that of 1998 and surpassed the $7 billion mark for the first time ever. Experts also expect that, by year's end, as many as 20 movies will have grossed $100 million, setting another new record (the current record is 18, set last year).
"We're in a record year, and we've had terrific weekends this year. So, there's no reason why this weekend couldn't beat the Christmas record," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box office tracking firm.
The high-profile movies released this week are expected to lure audiences, even though Christmas Eve is on a Friday and Christmas Day falls on a Saturday, Dergarabedian added.
"Last year, Christmas was on a Friday. That probably hurt the Friday-night moviegoing a lot, but we still managed to set a record," he said.
Even before the weekend, four major releases have already hit the theaters. On Tuesday, Sony released the unrated drama "Girl, Interrupted," starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie as patients in a mental hospital for women. On Wednesday, Warner Bros. released "Any Given Sunday," director Oliver Stone's epic drama about the cultural mythology of professional football, and Universal released two films, director Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon," the life story of comedian Andy Kaufman, and "Snow Falling on Cedars," a period thriller from director Scott Hicks that stars Ethan Hawke.
On Christmas Day, four new films will be added to the box office mix. DreamWorks will release "Galaxy Quest," a sort of "Star Trek" spoof meets "Three Amigos," in which the cast members of a fictional sci-fi TV show (played by Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell and Enrico Colantoni) get caught up in a real-life galactic war among extraterrestrials. Paramount will release two films: "The Talented Mr. Ripley," directed by Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") and starring Damon as a young musician who murders a wealthy friend and then assumes his identity, and "Angela's Ashes," adapted from Frank McCourt's best-selling memoir about growing up in Ireland and directed by Alan Parker.
Several films released in previous weeks will also likely show up in this weekend's Top 10 at the box office, such as Sony's children's film "Stuart Little," chronicling the adventures of a talking mouse, which was last weekend's No. 1 film, grossing $15.4 million. Other films likely to continue performing well include Warner Bros. "The Green Mile," starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan, which was No. 2 last weekend with $12.6 million, Disney's "Toy Story 2," which was third with $12.1 million, and Fox's "Anna and the King," starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, which was fifth last weekend with $5.1 million.
But industry insiders believe that some films that performed more poorly than expected last weekend, such as Disney's "Bicentennial Man," might be pushed out of the Top 10 by the crush of new pictures entering the mix. And other films that have been hanging around for several weeks -- such as "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," "The World Is Not Enough," "Sleepy Hollow," "End of Days," and "The Bone Collector," which placed fourth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th at the box office last weekend -- are likely candidates for elimination.
"There are a lot of question marks," one distributor said Wednesday. "It will be interesting to see what happens with 'Bicentennial Man' and 'Anna and the King.' Both of those pictures have big stars, but they opened last weekend far weaker than anyone had expected. 'Bicentennial Man' didn't even crack $10 million. If they don't bounce back this weekend, they could be gone in a hurry."
Another question mark this weekend is whether "Man on the Moon" will fly or flop. Although Carrey proved he could successfully transition from silly-but-successful comedies such as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Dumb and Dumber" to a drama such as 1998's"The Truman Show" (which made $31.5 million in its opening weekend and grossed $125.6 million overall), "Man on the Moon" challenges its audience to warm up to Andy Kaufman, a comedian who was only marginally famous and was widely disliked by many in his profession. Although the film and Carrey's performance have received critical praise, it could disappoint fans of Carrey's old slapstick-style comedy and generate bad word-of-mouth.
"'The Truman Show' proved that audiences will accept Jim Carrey in a serious film, but we'll have to see if they'll accept him as Andy Kaufman," Dergarabedian said. "This could be the No. 1 movie [this weekend], but it could just as easily be 'Any Given Sunday' or 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' as well. It's a crowded field."
A bounty of buzz-heavy, star-studded new releases will kick off the countdown to Christmas this year, promising something different and special each day of the week.
The holiday movie bonanza commences Tuesday with the limited release of Sony's "Girl, Interrupted." Adapted from Susanna Kaysen's critically acclaimed memoir, the film stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie as two iconoclastic young women confined to a mental institution.
Lifting the box office spirit Wednesday are three wildly anticipated films of different ilk. Taking care of the laugh department is director Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon," where funnyman Jim Carrey plays funnyman Andy Kaufman.
For those lamenting the absence of televised sports programming on Christmas, there's Oliver Stone's adrenaline-racing, testosterone-pumping "Any Given Sunday," a homage to the gritty underside of football starring Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid and Cameron Diaz.
And for the romantically inclined, check out "Snow Falling on Cedars," an entangled tale of past love and lingering emotion set in the Pacific Northwest starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine").
Christmas Day will see two new wide releases: DreamWorks' family friendly comedy "Galaxy Quest" with Tim Allen playing a passe TV actor enlisted to fight aliens in real life and Paramount's much-lauded "The Talented Mr. Ripley." In the Patricia Highsmith adaptation, Matt Damon plays a gay man hired to track down wayward playboy Jude Law in Italy and ends up assuming his life.
The big names don't stop there, though. Making their debut in limited engagements are three potential award winners and potential hits for the year 2000. They are Paramount's "Angela's Ashes," Buena Vista's buddy boxing flick "Play It to the Bone" with Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson and Fox Searhlight's ensemble drama "Titus" starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange.
Here's a complete list of this week's releases.
Opening Tuesday, Dec. 21
"Girl, Interrupted" (Sony) -- "Copland" director James Mangold adapts Susanna Kaysen's best-selling autobiographical novel to the big screen. Based on the author's brief confinement to a psychiatric ward during her teens, the film follows the troubled detainee portrayed by Winona Ryder as the line between sanity and madness disintegrates. Angelina Jolie co-stars as a fellow patient.
Opening Wednesday, Dec. 22
"Any Given Sunday" (Warners) -- Al Pacino plays a head football coach facing the worst season of his career. With record losses and plunging attendance, his future with the Miami Sharks is further jeopardized by the injury of his aging star quarterback played by Dennis Quaid. Under pressure to win at any cost, the veteran struggles to maintain his integrity on and off the sidelines.
"Man on the Moon" -- (Universal) "The People vs. Larry Flynt" director Milos Forman returns with a biopic on late comedian Andy Kaufman, best known for his role in "Taxi." Jim Carrey stars as the versatile comedian as the film traces various stages in Kaufman's career. Danny DeVito co-stars as his longtime manager, and Courtney Love plays his girlfriend.
"Snow Falling on Cedars" (Universal) -- "Shine" director Scott Hicks returns with a tale of intrigue and love set in 1954 on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Ethan Hawke stars as a reporter assigned to cover the trial of a Japanese man accused of the murder of a local fisherman. Youki Kudoh co-stars as Hawke's childhood flame and the wife of the accused (Rick Yune). Based on the best seller by David Guterson.
"Onegin" (Samuel Goldwyn) -- Set in 1820s Russia, Ralph Fiennes stars as a dashing aristocrat who's brought to the countryside through his inheritance of a large estate. There, he acquaints a doting young woman (Liv Tyler) whose love he refuses. Six years later, the two meet again on vastly different terms -- he's fallen obsessively in love with Tyler while she's comfortably married to another man.
"42 Up" (First Run) -- In 1964, filmmaker Michael Apted began his marathon documentary series about the lives of a group of 7-year-olds in England, each from radically different socioeconomic backgrounds. Since then, the director has continued to chronicle the ups and downs of his subjects at 7-year intervals. The sixth installment is the latest update on these people at the crossroad of the big 42.
Opening Friday, Dec. 24
"Pink Narcissus" (Strand) -- First released in 1971, this erotic phantasmagoria returns to the screen with all its campy outrageousness intact. The cult classic follows a beautiful young man, played by Bobby Kendall, as he journeys through a series of sexual fantasies with total abandon. Throughout the experience, the youth is plagued by one great fear -- growing old and losing his looks.
Opening Saturday, Dec. 25
"Galaxy Quest" (DreamWorks) -- Tim Allen plays an over-the-hill television star in this spaced out comedy. He finds himself responsible for the fate of the planet when too-eager aliens mistake the erstwhile actor and his peers as the "Captain Peter Quincy Taggart" starship crew. Now the reluctant actors must go into space for an intergalactic showdown. Sigourney Weaver co-stars.
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" (Paramount) -- Based on the acclaimed novel by Patricia Highsmith, Matt Damon stars as the gay, chameleon-like Tom Ripley, who is commissioned to retrieve an errant playboy (Jude Law) from Italy. The simple errand turns deadly as Damon develops an unhealthy obsession with the expatriate and his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow)."The English Patient" director Anthony Minghella writes and directs.
"Angela's Ashes" (Paramount) -- Adapted from Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, this film is a heartwarming document of the author's childhood in Ireland during the 1930s and '40s. Emily Watson ("Hilary & Jackie") and Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") co-star as Frank's working class parents. Directed by Alan Parker.
"Play It to the Bone" (Buena Vista) -- Out-of-work boxing rivals and friends (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas) get the chance of a lifetime to work together in Las Vegas. Strapped for time, they hit the road with their friend (Lolita Davidovich) at the wheel. A riotous road trip ensues as the boxers scramble to make it to their big showdown.
"Titus" (Fox Searchlight) -- In this epic tale of revenge, Anthony Hopkins stars as Titus Andonicus, the Roman general who sows the seeds of vengeance when he executes the son of the enemy queen, played by Jessica Lange. The repercussions of his action are revealed when the vindictive woman becomes the new wife of the Roman emperor. Alan Cumming co-stars.
"The Cider House Rules" (Miramax) -- Directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") and adapted from John Irving's best-selling novel, this coming-of-age story casts Tobey Maguire as a young man who has spent his entire youth in an orphanage. Hungry for experience, he sets out to explore the world outside. Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd and Michael Caine co-star.
"Cradle Will Rock" (Buena Vista) -- Based on true events in the cultural and art scenes of 1930s New York City, this film follows various cultural workers -- including Mexican artist Diego Rivera, theater director Orson Welles and propagandist Margherita Sarfatti -- as they defend their artistic expressions in the face of political paranoia and government censorship. John Cusack, Bill Murray and Susan Sarandon co-star.
"Tumbleweeds" (Fine Line) -- Leaving an abusive boyfriend behind, single mother Janet McTeer and daughter Kimberly J. Brown head for the sunny suburbs of San Diego to start anew. Once again, McTeer swif ly enters into a destructive relationship and is tempted to look for an easy way out. However, her headstrong daughter, tired of her rootless existence, refuses to abandon her newly established life.
What’s the perk of directing a critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning movie? Answer: It guarantees you at least a couple more directing gigs thereafter.
Kimberly Peirce, who cowrote and helmed "Boys Don’t Cry," has inked a two-year production contract with New Line Cinema, trade papers said today.
The first film produced under the deal is said to be an untitled murder mystery based on a true story. It is to be directed by Peirce and cowritten with her "Boys Don’t Cry" writing partner Andy Bienen.
Actress Hilary Swank won this year's Best Actress Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry."
GOING ‘BLONDE’: Daily Variety reports that Matthew Davis of "Urban Legend: Final Cut" fame might star opposite Reese Witherspoon in the comedy "Legally Blonde." The film is about a stereotypical blonde (Witherspoon) and her social-climbing ambitions. Hmmm ... is this "Election 2"?
WHERE’S WINONA? The Hollywood Reporter says that Winona Ryder will make a cameo appearance in the upcoming Al Pacino flick "Simone."
REPORTING ON HECHE: Actress Anne Heche is in early talks to play reporter and TV celebrity Dorothy Kilgallen in a Showtime flick, the Reporter tells us.
THE 'SALVAGE' PROJECT: "The Blair Witch Project" co-director Dan Myrick will helm the post-apocalyptic flick "Salvage." He will team up with actor-writer J.D. Shapiro on the project.
At the holiday weekend box office, Oliver Stone's homage to football scored, while Jim Carrey's homage to Andy Kaufman fumbled.
Director Stone's "Any Given Sunday," released by Warner Bros. and starring Al Pacino, and Cameron Diaz, was No. 1, grossing $14.2 million Friday through Sunday, studio estimates say. The film opened Wednesday in 2,505 theaters and averaged $5,669 per screen over the weekend, and has pulled in an estimated $21.3 million in its first five days.
But perhaps the biggest story of the weekend was all the money "Man on the Moon" didn't pull in. The Andy Kaufman biopic, starring Jim Carrey as the late "Taxi" comedian, is not expected to earn more than about $9 million for the Friday-Sunday weekend and $13.8 million for the week. (Like the Stone film, "Man on the Moon" opened Wednesday.)
"I think we pretty much expected this, given the fact that it's different from any other Jim Carrey movie and given the challenge of the material," Universal Vice President Jeff Sakson said today. "We didn't expect it to be No. 1 in its opening weekend, but we believe it will grow based on word of mouth."
"Man on the Moon" does indeed have lots of room to grow--it bowed in a (relatively) lowly sixth place. And if Universal wasn't expecting "Man on the Moon" to open big dollarwise, it certainly opened the film big theaterwise--putting it up on 2,079 venues where it averaged $4,329 per screen.
The real star of the weekend, meanwhile, might just be the No. 2 finisher. "The Talented Mr. Ripley," released on Christmas Day by Paramount and Miramax and boasting the Oscar-winning talents of Matt Damon (cast against type as an opportunistic serial killer), Gwyneth Paltrow and director Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient"), wrapped up the second spot with an estimated $13.8 million at 2,307 theaters, for an average of $5,982 per screen. That tidy sum was accumulated in just two days.
"If you look at the two-day figures [Saturday and Sunday], we are No. 1, and we are thrilled with that," Blaise Noto, Paramount's vice president of worldwide publicity, said today.
"We expect it to do even better next week as word-of-mouth spreads, because this film delivers what it promises and the reviews have been great across the country, averaging three to five stars. And now we've got a whole week of uninterrupted holiday playing time," Noto said.
Not unexpectedly, Warners--the studio behind "Any Given Sunday"--refused to yield a yard.
"This is the biggest opening weekend ever for an Oliver Stone film," Warner Bros. distribution president Dan Fellman said this morning. "Before this, his biggest was 'Natural Born Killers,' had about $11 million in its first weekend in 1993. We love this movie and we expected it to do well, so we are not surprised at the critical and commercial response."
The kiddie pics "Toy Story 2" and "Stuart Little" continued to perform well at the box office and were tied for the No. 3 spot. In its sixth week of release, Disney's "Toy" posted $12.5 million, up 3 percent over last weekend. "Toy" continued to play in an impressive 3,151 theaters, averaging $3,967 per screen. Its cumulative gross is now an estimated $179.7 million.
Columbia's "Stuart Little," which was last weekend's No. 1 flick, also grossed an estimated $12.5 million, a drop-off of 17 percent. The movie, which features the voice of Michael J. Fox as author E.B. White's famed talking mouse, averaged $4,310 per screen in 2,900 theaters. That film has now grossed approximately $40.2 million in two weeks.
"It's looking like one of the season's hits," said Jeff Blake, Columbia president of worldwide distribution. "The kids' pictures are not favored over Christmas weekend because families with children are staying home, so we're very pleased. We expect [Stuart Little's grosses] to be up next week, because the kids are out of school."
Warner Bros. "The Green Mile," starring Tom Hanks, earned just over $9 million for the weekend, according to estimates, edging out "Man on the Moon" by just $40,000 for No. 5. Experts said "Mile" and "Man on the Moon" could flip-flop in the ranks by the time actual ticket-sales numbers are calculated.
"The Green Mile," adapted from Stephen King's series of novellas about a death-row inmate gifted with miraculous healing powers, has grossed an estimated $52.8 million in three weeks of release. At 2,875 theaters, it averaged about $3,144 per screen, a 29 percent drop compared to last weekend, when the film was No. 2 at the box office.
The bottom half of the Christmas weekend Top 10 was occupied by comedies and family fare. Disney's "Bicentennial Man," starring Robin Williams, dropped two places to No. 7 in its second weekend. On the upside, the critically panned robot saga held its own, grossing an estimated $8.3 million for the second weekend in a row. The movie averaged $3,000 per screen in 2,767 theaters. Its overall take stands at $22.5 million.
In addition to "The Talented Mr. Ripley," one other film was given a wide release on Christmas Day. Dreamworks' "Galaxy Quest," a knowing spoof of "Star Trek," came in at No. 8 in the weekend box office race. The film, starring Tim Allen as a Shatner-esque sci-fi icon, bowed in 2,412 theaters and grossed $8.1 million over Saturday and Sunday, for an average of $3,358 per screen.
With surprisingly strong legs, the R-rated Disney-backed comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" stood firm in the Top 10 for the third straight weekend despite its no-star cast (led by "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Rob Schneider as a bumbling male prostitute). "Deuce" earned an estimated $6.2 million at 2,162 theaters, for an average of 2,868 per screen. The low-budget feature has now grossed $35.4 million.
Rounding out the Top 10 was 20th Century Fox's "Anna and the King," starring Jodie Foster and Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat. The film dropped four notches in its second weekend, grossing $4.1 million at 2,140 theaters, averaging 2,196 per screen. "Anna" has now grossed $13.5 million in two weeks.
Several films that had been Top 10 mainstays were eliminated from contention during the Christmas weekend. The latest James Bond actioneer "The World Is Not Enough" slipped four places to No. 11; Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" fell two notches to No. 12; and Arnold Schwarzenegger's would-be comeback vehicle, the apocalyptic thriller "End of Days," slipped five places to No. 13. The latter film has earned just $60.8 million after five weeks.
Estimates released by Exhibitor Relations Co., the box-office tracking firm, indicate that movie attendance for the top-grossing features declined about 27 percent compared to Christmas 1998. Although the actual ticket sales figures won't be tallied until Monday, it appears that the box-office total won't surpass last year's record of $147.5 million, as some experts had predicted.
Five films were released this week in limited runs--the better to qualify for the Academy Awards. Sony's "Girl, Interrupted," with Winona Ryder as a patient in a women's mental hospital, opened Tuesday in nine theaters, earning an estimated $206,000 for the week. Universal's "Snow Falling on Cedars," a thriller starring Ethan Hawke, opened Wednesday in three theaters and grossed $49,000 through Sunday. Paramount's "Angela's Ashes," based on author Frank McCourt's best-selling memoir, earned $60,000 in six theaters since opening on Christmas. Fox Searchlight's "Titus," starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, bowed in two theaters and made $25,000 over the weekend. Disney's "Play it to the Bone," starring Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas, opened in one theater and grossed $3,660 for the Saturday-Sunday period.