‘Grinch’ Tops ‘Limit’

The Grinch” continued making a mountain of money, easily holding on to first place for a fourth straight weekend.

Universal and Imagine Entertainment’s PG-rated blockbuster comedy adventure “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” topped the chart in its fourth week with a still magical estimated $18.46 million (-32%) at 3,186 theaters (+48 theaters; $5,795 per theater). Its cume is approximately $195.5 million, heading for $250 million-plus.

“It’s exhilarating to have ‘Grinch‘ the Number One film four weekends in a row; and as we move closer to the actual holiday season, having this film achieve the $200 million mark prior to that is most gratifying for Universal and Imagine Entertainment,” Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning.

“It will hit $200 million by the end of this week or with Friday’s business. I can no longer say ‘depending on how strong the film performs.’ I can only say, ‘depending on how the business is’ because ‘Grinch‘ has established itself as the strength of the holiday season. It could happen, depending on the strength of the business, mid-week. It could happen with Thursday’s business, but right now it looks like it’s going to happen with a portion of Friday’s box office.”

Grinch” also stands to set a record as the year’s top-grossing film when it passes the $215.3 million cume for Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 2” from last summer. Rocco said she sees this happening about a week later on Dec. 22.

Rocco confirmed that given its continuing strength in the marketplace, “Grinch” could have a domestic theatrical cume of $250 million by year’s end.

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

Rocco was also delighted with the studio’s very successful sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13-rated romantic fantasy “The Family Man” from Beacon Communications.

Asked how the sneaks at 854 theaters went, Rocco replied, “All you need to do is take a look at ‘Meet the Parents.’ We moved up a rung from ninth position to eighth position. What you don’t see is what the head-to-heads were off on ‘Meet the Parents‘ because we had lost playdates. The head-to-heads were off 16% on Friday and 11% on Saturday, which was the best hold of any film in the marketplace.

“Knowing that, we know for a fact that our sneaks were very well attended. Based on the tracking (of the sneaks) that we had, we had on Friday night a 79% capacity overall and on Saturday night an 87% capacity overall. The overall ratings were solidly above average and even better than above average among 17-34 year olds, which is really good. A lot of the press has been (calling) this the quintessential date movie for the holidays, and now this just bears that out.”

Family” opens Dec. 22 at between 2,000 and 2,500 theaters.

Directed by Brett Ratner, “Family” stars Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni.

Columbia’s PG-13-rated action adventure “Vertical Limit” was a high-climbing Number Two, kicking off to a lofty estimated $16.0 million at 2,307 theaters ($6,935 per theater).

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

“It’s a great opening on ‘Vertical Limit,'” Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. “We opened ‘Stuart Little’ to $15 million last year. Previously, we opened ‘A Few Good Men‘ to $15.5 million in this period. And both of those went on to do $140 million (in domestic theaters). So when weighing just how good an opening this is or any opening these December weekends is, I think everybody should remember that we’re very much in a marathon at this time of year as opposed to spring.

“We really have got a lot of appeal to a lot of different audiences and who attended this weekend certainly reflects that. We got a very even mix between men and women and over-and-under-25. I think that will be to our advantage to keep going straight through the holidays.”

There are those, of course, who will point to “Grinch” still coming in first. “I’ll be the first one to say Mel Gibson will be number one next week (in Paramount’s ‘What Women Want‘) and probably Tom Hanks will be number one the week after that (in 20th Century Fox’s ‘Cast Away‘), but at the end of the day, I think anybody who looks at the period as a whole — and certainly you should since this is the rare time when week three can be as good or better than week one — as you step out of the holiday period each year you recognize there are five or six real hits.

“‘Grinch‘ is already on the board as one (of those holiday season hits) and I’m sure there are others coming. We’re pretty confident we’ve put a number on the board and have a picture that plays really well, so we’re very confident now we’ll be one of those five or six.”

Vertical” reportedly cost $78 million, which while expensive is far enough from the stratosphere level of $100 million-plus that some films have to overcome. Also working in favor of making the picture successful for Sony is the fact that there reportedly are no back-end deals with profit participants to drain off the studio’s profits.

Sony also saw “Vertical” open well in Japan this weekend. “It opened Saturday and all I can tell you (this morning) is it looks very strong,” Blake said. The simultaneous launch in Japan, he added, is in keeping with the studio’s “aggressive (international) releasing strategy for event movies.”

Directed by Martin Campbell, “Vertical” stars Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney and Scott Glenn.

Blake also pointed to other good news for Sony this weekend. “On an international note, ‘Charlie’s Angels‘ is just about touching $200 million worldwide with continued strong openings in the international market.

“Another nice piece of news for us is ‘Snatch,’ which has a limited, nine-day Academy run (at one theater in Los Angeles). It opened on Wednesday. The Friday-Saturday-Sunday gross is $27,000 and the five days is $37,000. Really, for a 200 seat theater that’s pretty near turn-away business. I think that sets it up great for us when we go with 1,500 runs on Jan. 19. That could be a real sleeper.”

The R-rated suspense drama is from Sony’s Screen Gems arm.

Lastly, Blake said, “I give a tip of the hat to our sister company Sony Classics Pictures, who really have launched ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘ domestically in a pretty amazing way.” (For details, see OTHER OPENINGS below).

Castle Rock and Bel-Air Entertainment’s R-rated suspense drama “Proof Of Life” arrived via Warner Bros. in third place to a solid estimated $10.41 million at 2,705 theaters ($3,848 per theater).

“Adult movies always struggle this early on (in December),” Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. “There have only been two movies since 1995 that have been for adults that have done better (at this point in December). One was ‘The Green Mile‘ last year, which opened to $18 million. You have to go back to 1996 to find (another) adult movie — I’m going to call this more of a middle of the road movie (in terms of its appeal) — which was ‘Jerry Maguire,’ which did $17 million. But the Number One movie in ’95 was ‘Jumanji,’ which was for kids, which did $11 million. In ’96, it was ‘Jerry Maguire.’ In ’97, it was ‘Scream 2,’ which did $34 million. In ’98, ‘Star Trek‘ with $22 million. In ’99, ‘Green Mile.’ So in terms of adult films, the last five years there haven’t been many adult movies (opening to huge numbers).”

Life,” Fellman pointed out, “is the fifth largest Christmas opening Warners has ever had (not just this weekend, but at any time during December). Our Number One movie was ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ which opened up the week before Christmas with $18.4 million and last year it was ‘Green Mile‘ with $18 million. Then ‘Pelican Brief‘ at $16.8 million and ‘Any Given Sunday‘ at $13.5 million. And now ‘Proof Of Life.’ And ‘Any Given Sunday,’ ‘Pelican Brief‘ and ‘You’ve Got Mail‘ all opened up like next week (a week later than ‘Life‘).

“I feel that coming into the holiday, no matter what happens we’ll have (a cume of) over $20 million, so it’s certainly a good lead into Christmas (when the marketplace expands). Based on what happened this weekend versus last year, you see the market expanding 17% or 18%, which just shows you what’s going to happen at Christmas. Last year Christmas fell on a Saturday. Now it’s on a Monday. The market is definitely going to expand. There’s a big share for everybody.”

Directed by Taylor Hackford, “Life” stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe.

Buena Vista/Touchstone’s PG-13-rated supernatural thriller “Unbreakable” slid two pegs to fourth place in its third week with a less exciting estimated $7.5 million (-47%) at 2,682 theaters (-26 theaters; $2,796 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.4 million, heading for $100 million by year’s end.

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

New Line’s PG-13-rated sci-fi action adventure “Dungeons and Dragons” finished fifth, opening to a calm estimated $7.0 million at 2,078 theaters ($3,369 per theater).

Produced and directed by Courtney Solomon, it stars Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Zoe McLellan, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg with Bruce Payne and Jeremy Irons.

Buena Vista/Disney’s live-action, G-rated puppies sequel “102 Dalmatians” fell three spots to sixth place in its third week with a less frisky estimated $6.3 million (-24%) at 2,704 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,330 per theater). Its cume is approximately $44.3 million.

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

Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies’ G-rated animated sequel “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie” dropped three rungs to seventh place in its fourth week with a slower estimated $4.0 million (-38%) at 2,840 theaters (-97 theaters; $1,408 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.6 million.

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

Universal’s PG-13-rated blockbuster comedy “Meet the Parents” rose one peg to eighth place in its tenth week, still looking strong with an estimated $2.97 million (-22%) at 1,941 theaters (-376 theaters; $1,530 per theater). Its cume is approximately $157.1 million, heading for a domestic theatrical gross of $160 million-plus.

Parents‘” international release is through DreamWorks Pictures, which co-financed the film and will share equally in its success.

Directed by Jay Roach (director of both “Austin Powers” hits), “Parents” stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.

Columbia’s PG-13 action adventure comedy “Charlie’s Angels” skidded four pegs to ninth place in its sixth weekend with a less-engaging estimated $2.7 million (-46%) at 2,204 theaters (-547 theaters; $1,225 per theater). Its cume is approximately $119.3 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.

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

Rounding out the Top Ten was Miramax’s PG-13-rated romantic drama “Bounce,” down four notches in its fourth week with a quiet estimated $2.6 million (-41%) at 2,028 theaters (+14 theaters; $1,282 per theater). Its cume is approximately $34.1 million.

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

OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of Sony Pictures Classics’ PG-13-rated action adventure “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, placing 15th with a spectacular estimated $0.62 million at 13 theaters ($47,775 per theater).

Dragon,” which has high hopes in terms of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, was named Best Foreign Film by the National Board of Review, the first critics group to announce its honors for this year.

Directed by Ang Lee, “Dragon” stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.

Sony’s Screen Gems launched its R-rated suspense drama “Snatch” for a one week Academy qualifying run, placing 24th with a strong estimated $0.027 million at 1 theater in Los Angeles. “Snatch” opens Jan. 19 at about 1,500 theaters.

Sony’s Jeff Blake’s comments about “Snatch” and “Crouching Tiger” are included in the Top Ten Films report above.

Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, “Snatch” stars Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Brad Pitt, Rade Sherbedgia and Jason Statham.

SNEAK PREVIEWS Buena Vista/Disney held well-attended sneak previews Saturday night of its G-rated animated feature “The Emperor’s New Groove.”

“There were 1,333 sneaks with 82% capacity,” a BV spokesperson said Sunday morning. “93% playability in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good). It equals ‘A Bug’s Life‘ in playability and is two points below ‘Toy Story‘ and ‘Toy Story 2.’ The demographics are 52% female, 84% families, 7% teens and 9% couples.”

Groove,” opening Dec. 15 at 2,000 to 2,500 theaters, is directed by Mark Dindal and produced by Randy Fullmer.

Groove‘s” voice talents include David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton.

Universal held 854 sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13-rated romantic fantasy “The Family Man.”

For details, see Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco’s comments in the Top Ten films coverage above.

Miramax held 14 sneaks Saturday night in New York and Los Angeles of its PG-13-rated comedy “Chocolat,” a contender for Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

“There were seven each in New York and L.A.,” Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. “We had about 85% capacity including sellouts at Lincoln Square, Kips Bay in Chelsea and up in Greenwich, Connecticut. And we’re well into the 80%s on the definite recommend. So we’ll keep our fingers crossed there.”

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, “Chocolat” stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.

EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, Miramax’s G-rated reissue of The Beatles’ classic “A Hard Day’s Night” went wider in its second week, placing 21st with an estimated $0.095 million at 12 theaters (+10 theaters; $7,916 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.18 million.

Directed by Richard Lester, “Night” stars The Beatles.

WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films — those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend — took in approximately $83.83 million, up about 16.85% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $71.74 million.

This weekend’s key film gross was down marginally by about 0.35% from last weekend when key films took in $84.12 million.

Last year, Buena Vista’s fourth week of “Toy Story 2” was first with $18.25 million at 3,257 theaters ($5,603 per theater); and Warner Bros.’ opening week of “The Green Mile” was second with $18.02 million at 2,875 theaters ($6,267 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $36.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $34.5 million.

STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend’s top six distributors were:

Universal was first with three films (“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Meet the Parents” and “Billy Elliot“), grossing an estimated $22.32 million or 26.6% of the market.

Sony Pictures Entertainment (Columbia and Screen Gems) was second with four films (“Charlie’s Angels,” “Vertical Limit,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The 6th Day“), grossing an estimated $20.72 million or 24.7% of the market.

Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was third with two films (“Unbreakable” and “102 Dalmatians“), grossing an estimated $13.8 million or 16.5% of the market.

Warner Bros. was fourth with one film (“Proof Of Life“), grossing an estimated $10.41 million or 12.4% of the market.

New Line was fifth with two films (“Dungeons and Dragons” and “Little Nicky“), grossing an estimated $7.85 million or 9.4% of the market.

Paramount was sixth with one film (“Rugrats in Paris: The Movie“), grossing an estimated $4.0 million or 4.8% of the market.

ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)Men of Honor/Fox: Theaters: 2,000 (-188) Gross: $2.13 million (-49%) Average per theater: $1,064 Cume: $44.6 million

(12)The 6th Day/Phoenix/Columbia: Theaters: 1,833 (-683) Gross: $1.4 million (-65%) Average per theater: $764 Cume: $33.0 million

(13)Billy Elliot/Universal Focus: Theaters: 473 (-37) Gross: $0.89 million (-34%) Average per theater: $1,875 Cume: $14.6 million

(14)Little Nicky/New Line: Theaters: 1,374 (-1,096) Gross: $0.85 million (-62%) Average per theater: $619 Cume: $38.1 million

(15)CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON/Sony Pictures Classics: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)

(16)Remember the Titans/BV: Theaters: 684 (-507) Gross: $0.45 million (-56%) Average per theater: $650 Cume: $112.3 million

(17)Best in Show/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 286 (-64) Gross: $0.35 million (-29%) Average per theater: $1,205 Cume: $16.3 million

(18)The Legend of Bagger Vance/DreamWorks Theaters: 713 (-822) Gross: $0.3 million (-68%) Average per theater: $450 Cume: $30.4 million

(19)You Can Count On Me/Paramount Classics: Theaters: 53 (0) Gross: $0.28 million (-27%) Average per theater: $5,365 Cume: $2.0 million

(20)Quills/Fox Searchlight: Theaters: 9 (0) Gross: $0.16 million (-21%) Average per theater: $18,184 Cume: $0.9 million

(21)A Hard Day’s Night/Miramax (see EXPANSIONS above)

(22)Bring It On/Universal: Theaters: 227 (-24) Gross: $0.085 million (-34%) Average per theater: $374 Cume: $68.0 million

(23)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 104 (-26) Gross: $0.035 million (-37%) Average per theater: $337 Cume: $123.2 million

(24)SNATCH/Columbia: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)