‘Grinch’ Steals Weekend

The Grinch” stole the weekend box office with $55 million in very green grosses.

Universal and Imagine Entertainment’s PG-rated comedy adventure “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” easily evicted “Charlie’s Angels” from first place with a record-setting estimated $55.11 million at 3,127 theaters ($17,625 per theater).

Grinch,” which is playing on over 4,200 screens, had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide or limited release last weekend.

“It’s the highest non-sequel opener ever,” Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. “In all-time rankings, it’s fifth, including holidays and summer because four others are sequels. It’s Universal’s biggest non-holiday opening because we have the Number One with ‘Lost World.’ It’s the Number Two November opening ever, behind ‘Toy Story 2,’ which was the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It’s Ron Howard‘s biggest, Brian Grazer‘s biggest and Jim Carrey‘s biggest opening.”

Grinch” is also notable because it is the fifth consecutive film that Universal has opened in first place, something that Rocco pointed out no other distributor has achieved to date.

While Universal knew “Grinch” was going to open big, it’s opening is well beyond what anyone in the industry was anticipating. “I don’t think you can make predictions like this,” Rocco noted. “It’s very difficult when you’re at this level. I don’t think there’s anything that can prepare you for this kind of record breaker. Every studio has had one. I’ve been through this with ‘Lost World.’ You wake up mesmerized when you look at numbers like this.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Jim Carrey because what they did was make a commitment to make an event film for all ages and to do it with content that has something for everyone. There’s a timeless message. This is a film with extraordinary sensitivity and a message that is a ‘universal’ message, a global message, that if you look deep within yourself you’ll find there is a big heart, and we should all act accordingly. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. I think that people see that. You have a predominantly family audience, but it crossed over to all quadrants and that’s because of what it is. Not withstanding the huge numbers, I think it’s the talent that surrounds this film in Imagine and in Jim Carrey.”

Grinch,” of course, ushers in a holiday season that financially-pressured theater owners across the country have been praying for. “We have been praying for them,” Rocco added. “If you can do nearly $150 million (for key films in the marketplace — those grossing $500,000 or more) the weekend before Thanksgiving, it bodes extraordinarily well for what the business will be next weekend. I think we should look towards the business being at least what it was last year (when over the five-day holiday period key films grossed about $219 million). A bountiful Thanksgiving with entertainment to cross all segments of the audience.”

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

Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies’ G-rated animated sequel “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie” opened solidly in second place to a colorful estimated $23.00 million at 2,934 theaters ($7,839 per theater).

The first film in the series, “The Rugrats Movie,” opened to $27.3 million the weekend of Nov. 20-22, 1998, at 2,782 theaters ($9,821 per theater).

“We’re very pleased,” Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, noting that the holiday season is starting on the right foot.

“I’ve got it up about 37.5% over last year,” he said, pointing out that Paramount tracks the top 12 films on the chart in its Sunday estimates. “It’s off and running. ‘Charlie’s Angels‘ kind of launched it. But, I tell you, (it’s terrific) for two pictures appealing to the same audience to do over $75 million (between them).”

Although “Rugrats” was overshadowed by “Grinch” this weekend, it stands to do big business over the holiday period ahead. “A lot of folks and certainly the younger folks got overwhelmed by the campaign on ‘Grinch‘ (and felt they had) to go see that first,” Lewellen said. “But certainly ‘Rugrats‘ is on their radar to go see. We plan to be here through the Christmas holidays, so I think everybody will get around to it.”

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

Driven at the top by “Grinch” and “Rugrats,” the marketplace expanded to nearly $156 million for key films (those grossing over $500,000 for the three days).

As expected, the twin pre-Thanksgiving hits kicked the butt-kicking “Charlie’s Angels” out of the top spot.

Columbia’s PG-13 action adventure comedy “Angels” slipped two slots to third place in its third weekend with a less sexy estimated $13.7 million (-44%) at 3,037 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,511 per theater). Its cume is approximately $93.6 million, heading for $140-150 million.

“We should hit $100 million on Thanksgiving Day,” Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. “We survived the ‘Grinch‘ onslaught well. We’re still tracking between $140-150 million (in domestic theaters).”

Looking at the industry’s overall strength, Blake commented, “This might be the biggest non-holiday Friday-Saturday-Sunday ever. We can’t find a bigger one. All in all, we figure the business will be between $155-160 million. We can’t find anything over $155 million (among past non-holiday weekends).”

Blake also cited the fact that almost all of the top-ranking films are rated PG-13, PG or G. “If you look at the top 12, the only R-rated films are ‘Men Of Honor‘ and ‘Billy Elliot,'” he said. “All films in the Top Five are rated PG-13 or lower. You probably have got at least $110 million if not $120 million in gross in the Top Five. And you’ve got over $100 million in gross for new films opening this weekend, and that doesn’t happen too often. It’s product driven and you certainly have got something for everybody.”

Although “Angels” was ousted from its top spot on the domestic chart, the film is starting to soar internationally. “It certainly is part of our attempt to globalize pictures, particularly the hits,” Blake said. “Japan opened very well last week. It appears (based on information available Sunday morning) that (there was) a very strong hold in Japan. It had a strong Number One opening in Mexico, comparable to ‘The Perfect Storm.’ There are 27 markets opening this week (in such major territories as Australia, the U.K., France, Italy, Sweden, South America and Korea). In England, there’s a Royal Premiere on Wednesday. Another sign of changing times is that ‘Charlie’s Angels‘ will be fully distributed theatrically throughout the world prior to Christmas.

“It’s really a world wide distribution, and for really the first time you’ve got almost a huge opening weekend around the world, where the stakes are pretty high because major markets in Europe, South America and Asia are all opening simultaneously on the same weekend. Years ago, distribution (internationally) would be over the course of months rather than days. We certainly are hopeful that it becomes a $300 million hit world wide and, it would seem, so far, so good.”

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

Phoenix Pictures’ opening via Columbia of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s PG-13-rated sci-fi action adventure “The 6th Day” finished fourth with an unexciting estimated $13.2 million at 2,516 theaters ($5,246 per theater).

Day,” which Phoenix and Sony co-financed, reportedly cost $82 million to produce.

“This certainly turned out to be a tougher weekend than anyone could have dreamed,” Sony’s Blake observe . “But I think with the holiday weekend next weekend, hopefully, we’ll hang in there.”

The rule of thumb in distribution when holiday weekends are a film’s second weekend in the marketplace, Blake noted is that, “over the five days (we should do) the same as what we did this weekend. So I would hope, given the intensity of the openings this week, that might even turn out to be a little better.”

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, “Day” stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Pointing to the film’s strong potential in the international marketplace given Schwarzenegger‘s popularity with moviegoers abroad, Blake said, “It’s an important year-end release that’s being released throughout December around the world.”

Pointing to Schwarzenegger‘s “End Of Days,” he said, “it did about $67 million here and it did $140 million internationally. So it is an important point.”

Miramax’s PG-13-rated romantic drama “Bounce” opened in fifth place to a bouncy estimated $11.51 million at 1,918 theaters ($6,001 per theater).

“We’re very pleased with the opening,” Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. “We’re on the heels of both ‘Charlie’s Angels‘ and ‘6th Day,’ who are on anywhere from 600 to 1,100 more screens than we are. Aside from the two big guns, we have the highest per-screen average in the Top Ten. We’re going to expand for the Thanksgiving holiday and probably add another 300 to 400 runs and continue strong support advertising.

“We had some tough reviews, but we also had some great reviews, and we’re building off those great reviews and moving forward. We’re in there. We got a lot of the younger women this weekend. A lot of the older women were occupied with taking their kids to ‘Grinch‘ and ‘Rugrats.’ Over Thanksgiving, our goal is to get some of the older women, which I think we’ll be able to do. So it’s a great start and we’re happy.”

Written and directed by Don Roos, “Bounce” stars Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow.