‘Cast Away’ Looks to be Christmas Survivor

Moviegoers will “Cast” most of their box office votes for Tom Hanks this weekend.

Cast Away,” 20th Century Fox’s PG-13-rated drama reteaming Hanks and “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis, opens at nearly 2,800 theaters.

“Sunday is going to be off because its Christmas Eve, but with Christmas on a Monday this year it’s going to be a four-day weekend,” an insider explains. “Based on what ‘What Women Want‘ did last week (opening to $33.6 million), ‘Cast Away‘ could open to $30 million-plus for four days. They’ll be number one.”

“A lot of business is going to happen over the four days,” predicts another studio source. “I assume ‘Cast Away‘ is going to be number one. I think it’s going to do around $35 million.”

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Cast Away” stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.

Second place could see competition between Paramount’s PG-13-rated romantic comedy from Icon Productions “What Women Want” and Universal’s opening at about 2,400 theaters of its PG-13 romantic fantasy from Beacon Communications “The Family Man,” with each looking at mid-week like they could do $20-25 million.

Insiders expressed varying views of which film will be the strongest. With about half of its marketing campaign running this week, “Family Man” should see some major benefit in terms of boosting moviegoer awareness just as it opens.

“‘Women’ should do $25-28 million,” predicts a more enthusiastic distributor, claiming the close race will be for third place and will be between “Family Man” and “The Grinch.”

“‘Family Man‘ could be number two,” counters another observer, “and ‘Grinch‘ could be sitting there (in fourth place) with $15 million for four days.”

Directed by Nancy Meyers, “Want” stars Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.

Directed by Brett Ratner, “The Family Man” stars Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni and Don Cheadle.

Universal and Imagine Entertainment’s PG-rated blockbuster “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will have overtaken “Mission: Impossible 2” by Christmas Day to become the year’s biggest-grossing film with over $215.4 million. “Grinch” is well on its way to a domestic theatrical gross of $250 million-plus.

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

Dimension Films’ R-rated horror genre film “Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000,” opening at 1,500-plus theatres, should round out the Top Five.

“I think ‘Dracula‘s’ going to outgross ‘Miss Congeniality,'” one distributor speculates after studying the Hollywood radar screen. “I think ‘Dude, Where’s My Car‘ will go south. That young audience will switch over to ‘Dracula.’ Let’s say $10-12 million there.”

“I don’t think ‘Dracula‘ is going to open to more than ‘Dude‘ did (with $13.8 million),” agrees another source. “Let’s say it does $12-14 million.”

Directed by Patrick Lussier, “Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000” stars Jonny Lee Miller and Justine Waddell.

Warner Bros.’ launch of Castle Rock Entertainment’s PG-13-rated comedy “Miss Congeniality” should arrive in sixth place. Opening at about 2,700 theaters, “Congeniality” could walk off with about $10 million.

“Wait till the word gets out on that film,” snaps a pessimistic insider, agreeing that a marketing-driven $10 million opening is probably in the cards.

Directed by Donald Petrie, “Miss Congeniality” stars Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt and Candice Bergen.

Filling out lower rungs: “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “Vertical Limit,” “Dude, Where’s My Car” and “Proof Of Life.”

On the limited release front: Buena Vista/Touchstone opens its PG-13-rated dark comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for Oscar consideration.

Directed by Joel Coen and written by Ethan and Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and John Turturro.

Lions Gate Films opens its unrated suspense thriller “Nowhere To Hide” in New York and L.A.

Directed by Lee Myeong-Se, it stars Park Jung-Hun.

Fine Line opens its R-rated comedy “State and Main” in the top 12 markets.

Directed and written by David Mamet, it stars Alec Baldwin.

Sony Pictures Classics opens its PG-rated drama “The House Of Mirth” in New York and L.A.

Directed and written by Terence Davies, it stars Gillian Anderson, Eric Stoltz and Dan Aykroyd.

Fine Line opens its R-rated drama “Before Night Falls” in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.

Directed by Julian Schnabel, it stars Javier Bardem.

On the expansion front: Miramax goes into the top 50 markets with its romantic comedy drama “Chocolat,” a likely contender for Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

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

Also, “Finding Forrester” opens Dec. 19 in New York and L.A. and “The Gift” opens in L.A. Dec. 20. Opening Christmas Day: “All the Pretty Horses” (wide), “An Everlasting Piece” (limited), and “13 Days” (limited).

CHRISTMAS BOX OFFICE Unlike Thanksgiving, which, of course, always falls on a Thursday and always generates a five-day box office period (from Wednesday through Sunday), Christmas falls on a different day of the week every year. As a result, comparisons of Christmas box office business are difficult to make. Some years Christmas is part of a four-day holiday weekend, while in other years the holiday is part of a three-day weekend, and in other years the holiday falls mid-week and is not connected to the weekend that follows it.

Having Christmas fall on a Monday, explains one distribution executive, “is not ideal, but it’s certainly better than Christmas on a Sunday, which kills your Saturday night business. There should be a strong Friday and Saturday. People are obviously off for the weekend. Christmas Eve will slump, but then Christmas Day will be good. Then the mid-week business will be strong.”

Focusing on the same question, another distributor says Christmas falling on a Monday “is good because Christmas eve on a Sunday is a day off for everybody and they can go to movies during the day, not at night, and still participate in Christmas Eve activities.”

If we could work things out to have Christmas always fall on the same day of the week, which day would Hollywood pick? “I’d probably pick a Tuesday or Thursday,” replies one insider, “because then there’s a tendency for people to just take the extra day off. When it’s on Thursday, then it becomes like Thanksgiving. So you’re off on Thursday for Christmas Day — well, who’s going to go back to the office for one day? Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a four-day weekend, and your Christmas Eve was only a week night (that got hurt), so who cares?

“I don’t like Christmas Eve to ever be one of the weekend nights. But I like Christmas to be close enough to the weekend. Thursday is really ideal because even it’s on Tuesday, then people take off Monday, but they’re taking off a day when they’re not going to go to the movies at night.”

Wednesday is seen as a bad day for Christmas, this source adds, because “it’s sort of neither here nor there. It’s smack right in the middle of the week and it’s harder for people to say, ‘Oh, I’ll take an extra two days off.’ The worst day is Sunday because it kills Saturday night. That was last year. It’s one of those things like the weather. You can speculate, but you can’t do a darn thing about it.”

In 1999, Christmas fell on a Saturday. Key films — those grossing $500,000 or more for the weekend — did $95.0 million for the weekend of Dec. 24-26. Warner Bros.’ opening of “Any Given Sunday” led the pack with $13.58 million and a five-day cume of $20.6 million. Paramount’s opening of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” was second with $12.74 million for two days.

In 1998, Christmas fell on a Frida . Key films took in $142.4 million for the weekend of Dec. 25-27. Universal’s opening of “Patch Adams” was first with $25.26 million. Sony’s launch of “Stepmom” was second with $19.14 million.

In 1997, Christmas fell on a Thursday. Key films grossed $140.1 million for the weekend of Dec. 26-28. Paramount’s “Titanic” topped the chart with $35.46 million and had a 10-day cume (from its opening until the end of the Christmas weekend) of $88.4 million. MGM’s James Bond epic “Tomorrow Never Dies” was second with $20.48 million and a 10-day cume of $62.2 million. Sony’s opening of “As Good As It Gets” finished third with $12.61 million and a four-day cume of $16.2 million.

In 1996, Christmas fell on a Wednesday. Key films did $109.4 million for the post-Christmas weekend of Dec. 27-29. New Line’s opening of “Michael” was first with $17.44 million and a five-day cume of $27.6 million. Sony’s “Jerry Maguire” was second with $14.02 million and a 17-day cume of $60.4 million.

In 1995, Christmas fell on a Monday. Key films collected $90.6 million for the four-day weekend of Dec. 22-25. 20th Century Fox’s opening of “Waiting To Exhale” was first with $14.13 million for four days. Buena Vista/Disney’s “Toy Story” was second with $12.11 million and a 34-day cume of $115.7 million.

In 1994, Christmas fell on a Sunday. Key films did $86.28 million for the four day weekend of Dec. 23-26. New Line’s “Dumb and Dumber” was first with $15.59 million and an 11-day cume of $40.7 million. Buena Vista/Disney’s “The Santa Clause” was second with $9.78 million and a 46-day cume of $123.2 million.