Thank God, It’s ‘Next Friday’

Ice Cube‘s hip-hop comedy “Next Friday” packed the winning punch at the holiday weekend box office, surprising Hollywood insiders who thought Denzel Washington‘s “The Hurricane” would claim the prize for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Stuart Little,” meanwhile, thought big again — placing second and cracking the $100 million mark overall.

The R-rated “Next Friday,” New Line’s sequel to the 1995 flick “Friday,” maintained the high energy it displayed when it opened Wednesday. It easily captured first place with a sizzling estimated $17 million at 1,103 theaters ($15,413 per theater) from Friday to Monday. Its cumulative take after six days is approximately $21.5 million, with about $4.5 million of that having come in Wednesday and Thursday.

Directed by Steve Carr, “Next Friday” was written and produced by and stars rapper/actor Ice Cube. The picture reportedly cost $9 million to $10 million to make.

“We got the negative cost on this picture back in five days,” New Line Executive Vice President, Distribution, David Tuckerman said. “Actually, we doubled our negative cost.”

Asked about the sequel’s strength, Tuckerman noted, “Part of this has all to do with [the original’s film’s success in] video, too. The video was just like the ‘Austin Powers’ video. For 100 weeks it was in the Top 100. And, I think, it was the biggest sell-through for, like, a 100 weeks. The core audience loved it originally. It played as well in the college towns as it did in urban markets.”

Is it crossing over to mainstream moviegoers? “Are you familiar with Thousand Oaks?” Tuckerman asked, referring to one of the most mainstream suburban communities in the Los Angeles area. “We’re basically selling out the theater. It’s all [mainstream audience] young adults.”

With a nearly $22 million gross in six days, Tuckerman estimated the film would wind up in the $45 million to $50 million range domestically. Given the numbers, the executive wasn’t ruling out a third “Friday” flick.

“We had ‘Friday’ and ‘Next Friday‘ and now [there could be] ‘Another Friday,'” Tuckerman said.

The PG-rated family comedy “Stuart Little” held up very well in its fifth weekend, slipping just one slot to No. 2 with a still lively estimated $12.60 million at 3,092 theaters. Its overall take stands at approximately $109.7 million, heading for $140 million to $150 million in domestic theaters.

“This weekend’s a good example of what ‘Stuart‘ can do if it runs unopposed in the family business. It really overperformed once again,” Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing, said today.

The studio doesn’t expect “Stuart” to hit much traffic until the family films “The Tigger Movie” (from Disney) and “Snow Day” (from Paramount) open Feb. 11.

Right now, Sony’s crowing about its strategy of opening “Stuart” in late December, well after Disney launched “Toy Story 2.”

“Sometimes you can go against them and do quite well, as certainly ‘Pokemon‘ did this year and ‘Rugrats’ did in the past and, sometimes, you get killed like the sequel to ‘Babe,'” Blake said. “I wasn’t much up for taking them on directly, so we certainly hoped we could make ‘Stuart‘ an event at Christmas every bit as big as Disney had managed to make in November [with ‘Toy 2‘].”

Universal’s R-rated drama “The Hurricane,” meanwhile, went wide in its third week, placing third with a less-than-punchy estimated $10.69 million at 1,454 theaters. Its cumulative gross is approximately $14.8 million. Directed by Norman Jewison, the film stars Washington as wrongly imprisoned boxing champion Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

“It’s exactly where we expected this film to be,” Universal Distribution President Nikki Rocco said today. “It’s a picture that will certainly be in [the marketplace] for a long time. I just read the CinemaScore, and it’s between A and A-plus. The exit polls have been tremendous — 97 percent in the top two boxes [excellent and very good] across the board. It’s not particularly any one group. I can’t say it’s all ethnic or all upscale. The picture speaks for itself.”

Rocco is also very optimistic about the picture’s award potential: “I know the Golden Globes and the Academy will have nothing but praise for this movie in how they [bestow] their awards. It’s not a film that’s going to be overlooked. I don’t think Denzel will be overlooked. His performance is superb.”

Winona Ryder’s “Girl, Interrupted” also went wide this past weekend, finishing at No. 4 with an encouraging estimated $9.6 million at 1,902 theaters. Overall, it’s taken in approximately $10.4 million.

The death-row drama “The Green Mile,” starring Tom Hanks, fell three pegs to finish fifth in its sixth week with a fair (and estimated) $8.94 million at 2,483 theaters. Like “Little,” the film also broke the $100 million barrier, with its overall take now standing at about $102.9 million. Before its done, experts expect it to hit $135 million to $140 million domestically.

“‘The Green Mile‘ just keeps grossing,” Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. distribution president, said today. “I think it’s definitely a movie that’s so appealing to all audiences — and the word of mouth has been fantastic.”

According to estimates from Exhibitor Relations Co., the rest of the Top 10 stacked up this way: “Galaxy Quest,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Supernova,” “Toy Story 2,” “Any Given Sunday.”