‘Grinch’ Steals Thanksgiving

Dr. Seuss’ “Grinch” was just what the doctor ordered for theater owners, lifting their spirits with nearly $74 million in Thanksgiving ticket sales.

Universal and Imagine Entertainment’s PG-rated blockbuster comedy adventure “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” from director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and star Jim Carrey easily held on to the top spot in its second weekend.

Going into the long Thanksgiving period, insiders’ were seeing stiff competition on their radar screens for “Grinch” from Buena Vista’s twin openings of “Unbreakable” (Touchstone) and “102 Dalmatians” (Disney). But it was clear as early as Thanksgiving morning when estimates of Wednesday’s grosses became available that “Grinch” would top the holiday chart. Nonetheless, Buena Vista’s two new arrivals together carved themselves a robust $74 million slice of box office pie.

(NOTE: Today’s estimates are for the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday through Sunday. There are no percentage comparisons to last week, a non-holiday period.)

Grinch” placed first with a jolly estimated $73.77 million at 3,134 theaters (+7 theaters; $23,538 per theater). Its cume is approximately $137.4 million, heading for $180-200 million or more.

Grinch” had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.

“We’re thrilled,” Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. “This movie will be an immense success for every area of the studio. Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have delivered an incredible early Christmas present and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

What accounts for the huge expansion in the marketplace? “‘Grinch,'” Rocco replied. “We can’t say the weather was bad because the weather was decent everywhere. Today (Sunday) is rainy in New York and is going to help business even more. It’s very rainy on the East Coast and we know that bodes well (for ticket sales) on Sunday. People are in the holiday spirit. ‘Grinch‘ certainly is a holiday movie. Christmas came early!”

Directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer, “Grinch” stars Jim Carrey.

Buena Vista/Touchstone’s PG-13-rated supernatural thriller “Unbreakable,” reteaming the director and star of Touchstone’s blockbuster “The Sixth Sense,” broke into second place with a high-powered estimated $47.2 million at 2,708 theaters ($17,429 per theater).

“Can you imagine a film as big and as powerful as ‘Grinch‘ is in this marketplace and ‘Dalmatians‘ and ‘Rugrats‘ still do this kind of business?” Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. “Does that show the power of the family audience on this holiday?”

Focusing first on “Unbreakable,” Viane observed, “We all knew, when you take a risk like this of putting an adult feature in a very family-oriented holiday, you’re not sure. Up till now, I think ‘Back to the Future‘ was the biggest of the non-family movies to ever go out there (at Thanksgiving). This obviously blows it away. To think that you can do $47 million worth of adult business on this holiday, when everybody is off taking their families to the movies, is remarkable. It’s a great holiday.

“I think probably what you’re going to see each year (now) is that somebody’s going to do this. Somebody’s going to place an adult film here. It’s too lucrative not to. When you see the kind of numbers that a good film can take out of the marketplace, you’ve got to say to yourself, if you have an adult film and Christmas becomes too crowded, why not be here? How many weekends in the year would we have not been number one if it wasn’t for a picture as strong as ‘Grinch?'”

As for finishing second, Viane pointed out, “Being number two at $47 million? Any time, any place, I’ll take it. When we first laid both films down at this time, we knew ‘Grinch‘ was a player and we always said, ‘As long as we come out of this in the top three, it doesn’t matter because the money’s so big.’ Boy, it sure played out that way.”

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, “Unbreakable” stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

Driven at the top by “Grinch” and “Unbreakable,” the Thanksgiving marketplace expanded to nearly $240 million for key films (those grossing over $500,000 for the five days). That sends this Thanksgiving into the record books as Hollywood’s biggest ever. Until now, Thanksgiving 1999 held the record with a key films gross of nearly $219 million. This year’s five-day Thanksgiving ticket sales for key films were up about 9.5% from last year.

Buena Vista/Disney’s live-action, G-rated puppies sequel “102 Dalmatians” got off to a little less peppy start in third place with an estimated $26.8 million at 2,704 theaters ($9,911 per theater).

“$26.8 million in a market with ‘Grinch‘ is fabulous,” Buena Vista’s Viane said Sunday morning. “In a market with ‘Grinch‘ and ‘Rugrats‘ it’s probably even a bigger exclamation point to be able to do this kind of business. It just shows how much the family market can expand during a holiday and how they are willing to take second and third choices. I would believe that ‘Grinch‘ helped all the films in the market this weekend because there was so much pressure on their (available) seats that people were willing to take a second or third or fourth choice.

“Even ‘Meet the Parents‘ and ‘Remember the Titans‘ both had very nice weekends simply because they’re ratings friendly movies. Folks were willing to see them for a second time or somebody who hadn’t been catching up with the movies finally got a chance to see them. These megaplexes finally came to fruition about what they’re there for — a lot of films in the marketplace and people being given some choice.”

Asked about “Dalmatians” and those who think it should have opened bigger, Viane replied, “The original did more. This is a sequel. Sequels historically do less. So I’d say we’re right in the ballgame of where realistic expectations should be.”

Looking ahead, Viane said, “I think both ‘Rugrats‘ and ourselves will now benefit from the humongous success of ‘Grinch‘ in that there is nothing new coming for a couple of weeks. I think the family audience can now make choices. There is not a new family movie until (BV’s animated) ‘Emperor’s New Groove‘ on Dec. 15. So I think that will be wonderful for the history of both of these films. Look, there is no question that there was this big snowball rolling down the hill called ‘Grinch.’ I think we’re all going to get caught up in the wake of it and get their aftermath.

“I think there is a big audience for the next two weeks for these films. I think overall the business is in such great shape. And having a ‘second’ Christmas coming, that’s fabulous. There have been too many years where all the rocks were put either at Thanksgiving or at Christmas. This year it’s so well spread out. I think it’s really good for our industry.”

Directed by Kevin Lima, “Dalmatians” stars Glenn Close and Gerard Depardieu.

Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies’ G-rated animated sequel “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie” fell two pegs to fourth place in its second week with a still cheerful estimated $22.75 million at 2,937 theaters (+3 theaters; $7,746 per theater). Its cume is approximately $47.9 million.

“It’s running about 20% behind the original,” Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. “Of course, the original didn’t have the kind of competition that this one has. It opened at that level and, frankly, it’s been playing at that level. And if that holds true, it will end up in the $85 million range (in domestic theaters), which will be very good.

“It’s really playing exactly like the (first) one. This weekend was off 23% for the three days from the opening weekend, which was exactly the same percentage as the original.”

Directed by Stig Bergqvist and Paul Demeyer, it was produced by Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo.

Columbia’s PG-13 action adventure comedy “Charlie’s Angels” fell two rungs to fifth place in its fourth weekend with a still snappy estimated $14.0 million at 2,838 theaters (-199 theaters; $4,933 per theater). Its cume is approximately $109.2 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.

“It’s just terrific considering the level of competition,” Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. “It was down 20% Friday-Saturday-Sunday, so you can see it’s still a picture people want to see and we’re getting repeat business despite all the competition.”

The “Angels” are flying high internationally, as well. “We had a huge opening in the U.K. — 3 million pounds,” Blake noted. “Our opening in Australia was second only to ‘Men in Black.’ So far this weekend, we’ve got 10 number one openings around the world with 16 left to report. It looks like we could well sweep the board as the number one opening worldwide this weekend. Number one openings are confirmed in the U.K., Australia, Italy, France, Korea, Brazil — literally all over the world in both Americas, Asia and Europe.”

Directed by McG, “Angels” stars Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Bill Murray.

This weekend also saw the arrival of Fox Searchlight Pictures’ R-rated drama “Quills,” placing 19th with an encouraging estimated $0.31 million at 9 theaters ($34,955 per theater).

“I think it’s terrific,” Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. “When I look back at films like ‘English Patient‘ or ‘Full Monty,’ it’s a tremendous opening (for) a very serious, provocative film in the midst of this humongous weekend. It’s very exciting to see that there is a significant public out there that’s interested in an alternative sort of grown-up movie.

“There is a wide range of films out there and we were able to find an audience. We got tremendous critical support. The vast majority of the press was very enthusiastic and I think we’re off and running. From here, we’re going to play very well into the end of the year.”

Quills” opened in five key markets, Gilula said: “It was strong everywhere — New York, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and Toronto. It’s obviously very strong in New York. Of course, in New York you have higher ticket prices. But it’s playing very well in all the cities. It’s very encouraging. When we go to the next key cities on Dec. 15, we’re very enthused that we’re going to do extremely well.”

Gilula did not yet have exit poll data in hand early Sunday morning, but noted, “It’s a pretty wide range — anywhere from 20-something all the way up. It’s reaching out to a college age and younger audience as well as traditional sophisticated moviegoers. There’s a large discriminating audience out there that’s always looking for variety in the films they go see.”

Directed by Philip Kaufman, it stars Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet.