Star Trek: Nemesis was flying in second place at less than warp speed with $18.8 million.
Drumline marched into third place with a high energy $13.1 million.
The Hot Chick opened with a not-so-hot $7.5 million in a fourth place tie.
The weekend also saw an impressive platform release start for New Line's drama-comedy About Schmidt, which won best picture in the Los Angeles Film Critics' vote Saturday. The Alexander Payne film grossed about $283,000 at 6 theaters, averaging an enviable $47,167 per theater. (For details and comments by New Line Distribution president David Tuckerman see OTHER OPENINGS below.)
Key films grossed $98.5 million, up nearly 13 percent from this weekend last year when they did $87.5 million.
THE TOP TEN
Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan opened to a chart topping ESTIMATED $19.0 million at 2,838 theaters ($6,695 per theater).
"It is Jennifer's biggest (opening)," Sony Pictures Entertainment vice chairman Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "The Cell was $17.5 million (when it) opened Aug. 18, 2000. The demographics of the picture were about 60-40, female to male. The key to the success was the wide spread of ages. It was just about 50-50 over and under 25. I think all ages are looking at this as a picture for them and that is, perhaps, a combination of younger fans of Jennifer's and also that the movie, itself, is a real package that's a strong romantic comedy with a great cast (in addition to Lopez) with Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson and Bob Hoskins. So it's certainly not just all on Jennifer's shoulders although they're very lovely shoulders to be on."
Focusing on why Maid did so well, Blake observed, "I think it's a story that people can identify with. We're thrilled with the placement because it seems for the holidays this is the kind of picture that could be the mutual choice of the entire family. It just is such an enjoyable, identifiable story.
"Normally, (when) you get a romantic comedy that gets a good start right before the holiday season, it can do five or six times its opening (weekend gross). So that certainly was what happened to pictures like Jerry Maguire and some others that have debuted prior to the holiday like Miss Congeniality. We certainly would love to see the same thing happen to us. We go into the holiday period in a pretty strong position and, obviously, being number one we couldn't have asked for a better start."
Blake also was pleased with how well Columbia and Intermedia Films' R rated Oscar contender Adaptation held up in its second weekend of platform release. Continuing at seven theaters, Adaptation grossed an ESTIMATED $274,000, averaging $39,150 and down only 29 percent from its opening weekend. Its cume is approximately $855,000.
"We're adding approximately 100 screens on Friday (Dec. 20) and then expanding again on Jan. 10," Blake said. "We got an L.A. Film Critics award last night (for Chris Cooper for supporting actor and a runner-up screenplay award for Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman) and we hope the good news keeps coming."
Paramount's PG-13 rated sci-fi franchise episode Star Trek: Nemesis, which insiders had expected to see orbiting atop the chart, opened a close number two with an ESTIMATED $18.75 million at 2,711 theaters ($6,916 per theater).
The series' previous episode, Star Trek: Insurrection, blasted off the weekend of Dec. 11 to 13, 1998 in first place to $22.05 million at 2,620 theaters ($8,417 per theater). It grossed about $70 million in domestic theaters.
"Obviously, we would have liked to have had a little more opening (gross)," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "But the picture plays very well. We know that from our research screenings. And we've got the holidays in front of us. The biggest Star Trek ever was number four, which did like $110 million and it only opened to $17 million."
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated urban appeal hip-hop comedy drama Drumline took the field in third place to a surprisingly strong ESTIMATED $13.05 million at 1,833 theaters ($7,119 per theater).
Drumline's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"It went up 30 percent from Friday to Saturday, which was the biggest bump of any of these first-weekers and that's a pretty good bump for a first weekend," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "We did a lot of matinee business Saturday and it's terrific. It's a great start and I think we're going to have a hell of a run right through the holidays."
In terms of opening weekend demographics, Snyder noted, "It was 60-40 African-Americans and non-African-Americans. That 40 percent is a pretty high place to start (in terms of crossover audience). So it's very encouraging. It's very high (crossover) for a first weekend. Usually, that doesn't happen until the third or fourth weekend on these primarily African-American movies. And 60 percent were under 25, so it's playing young."
As for why it's doing so well, Snyder pointed out, "From the CinemaScores, people loved it. It got straight A-pluses. The material grabbed people. The hip-hop element plays to all kids. And I think it's now in the culture. It's a little bit of everything -- music, dance, comedy, drama. It's fun.
"It looks like the theater count was pretty right. And it's where it belonged -- before Christmas. I think it's going to be great for all young people right on through the holidays."
Buena Vista/Touchstone Pictures' PG-13 rated comedy The Hot Chick opened with less heat than hoped for in a fourth place tie with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million at 2,217 theaters ($3,370 per theater).
"When I looked at the CinemaScores for all four pictures (that opened) this weekend, they all really scored well," BV distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "I think what's happened is, you have four choices on a weekend and you can only be first choice for so many people. I think with these scores and the very good news with us going up 17 percent last night (Saturday versus Friday) and some of the movies not going forward, it bodes well among our audience that we've got the whole holiday ahead of us."
Looking at the CinemaScores, Viane observed, "Hot Chick has two A's and four B-pluses. Maid in Manhattan has two A's and four B-pluses. And Star Trek has four A's and two B-pluses. Drumline has six A-pluses. It's impressive) when you think all of these movies scored that well. It's tough. There's no question. Every Friday when you're opening up against three or four pictures -- in the old days, it was you and one other (film) all the time, today you go up against three or four -- you really have to place your films well so that you can get to your intended audience during a period of time.
"Thankfully, today is Dec. 15 and we have about two and a half consecutive weeks of really strong play time ahead of us. All the way through Jan. 3 everything is very positive for everybody in the marketplace. If the audiences like it as much as this, then you definitely have your future ahead of you."
MGM and United Artists' PG-13 rated James Bond thriller Die Another Day slid three slots to tie for fourth place in its fourth week with a solid ESTIMATED $7.5 million (-42%) at 3,377 theaters (+30 theaters; $2,221 per theater). Its cume is approximately $131.6 million, heading for $165-175 million in domestic theaters.
The last Bond film, 1999's The World Is Not Enough, grossed $126.9 million in domestic theaters and $225.1 million in international theaters for a worldwide total of $352 million.
"It's now the biggest domestic grossing Bond ever," MGM senior vice president, publicity Eric Kops said Sunday morning.
Warner Bros.' PG rated sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets fell three pegs to sixth place in its fifth week, holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $6.15 million (-39%) at 3,025 theaters (-362 theaters; $2,033 per theater). Its cume is approximately $222.4 million, heading for $275 million in domestic theaters.
Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment's R rated comedy sequel Analyze That plunged five notches to seventh place in its second week with a weak ESTIMATED $5.32 million (-52%) at 2,635 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,017 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.6 million.
The 1999 original film in the series, Analyze This, grossed $106.7 million in domestic theaters.
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated comedy sequel Santa Clause 2 fell three two rungs to eighth place in its seventh week, still holding decently with an ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-25%) at 2,207 theaters (-149 theaters; $1,814 per theater). Its cume is approximately $125.4 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated sci-fi adventure Treasure Planet dropped four slots in its third week to ninth place with a dull ESTIMATED $3.0 million (-46%) at 2,192 theaters (-1,035 theaters; $1,370 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.8 million.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Arenas Entertainment and Universal's R rated urban action film Empire, down six pegs in its second week with a quiet ESTIMATED $2.78 million (-56%) at 869 theaters (+2 theaters; $3,195 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.7 million.
This weekend also saw the arrival of New Line Cinema's R rated drama About Schmidt to an impressive ESTIMATED $283,000 at 6 theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Omaha (where much of the film was shot), averaging a hefty $47,167 per theater.
Schmidt was honored Saturday night by the L.A. Film Critics as best picture. Nicholson tied for best actor (with Daniel Day-Lewis for Miramax's Gangs of New York). Payne and Jim Taylor won best screenplay. Kathy Bates was the best supporting actress runner-up for Schmidt (with Edie Falco winning for Sony Pictures Classics' Sunshine State).
"What's interesting about the L.A. Critics is that over the last 28 years (for) 25 times whoever has won the L.A. Critics award has gone on to be nominated for the best picture Oscar," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning.
"We're really pleased. Jack's been getting all these accolades and rightly so for his performance. But (there's also) Alexander Payne's direction and Kathy Bates' (performance). Kathy Bates' performance is a brave performance (with her already much talked about nude hot-tub scene). I think it's terrific that everybody's getting acknowledged. Ensemble's the wrong word to use when you have a Jack Nicholson picture, but we've got these other strong performances and the film. It's not just Jack."
Looking ahead, Tuckerman said, "The plan now is we're taking 17 exclusive runs in 17 cities on Friday, Dec. 20. On Jan. 3 we're going to roll it out to anywhere from 600 to 800 screens altogether."
New Line is in the enviable position of launching the second of its mega-blockbuster Lord of the Rings franchise this Wednesday (Dec. 18). With Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Tuckerman said, "We'll be (in) over 3,600 theaters and over 6,500 prints."
United Artists' PG rated drama Evelyn opened quietly via MGM in platform release to an ESTIMATED $72,000 at 15 theaters ($4,824 per theater).
Warner Bros. held 825 very successful sneak previews Saturday of its PG-13 rated romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice.
"We had great sneaks last night," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "We had 85 percent capacity. We don't do exits on the sneaks, but the reaction that we had through the EDI service (which asks theater managers for details) was that the picture played extremely well."
Notice opens Friday (Dec. 20) at about 2,700 theaters.
On the expansion front this weekend Samuel Goldwyn Films' R rated drama El Crimen del Padre Amaro went wider in is fifth week with a slow ESTIMATED $0.3 million (-34%) at 127 theaters (+5 theaters; $2,105 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.5 million.
Directed by Carlos Carrera, it stars Gael Garcia Bernal and is the official Mexican entry in this year's best foreign language film Oscar race.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $98.55 million this weekend, up about 12.65 percent from last year when they totaled $87.48 million.
Key films were up about 28.34 percent from last weekend of this year when they totaled $76.79 million.
Last year, Paramount's opening week of Vanilla Sky was first with $25.02 million at 2,742 theaters ($9,123 per theater); and Warner Bros.' second week of Ocean's Eleven was second with $22.08 million at 3,075 theaters ($7,179 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $47.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $37.8 million.