The first signs of holiday box office bah-humbug blew in like an ill wind this past weekend with chilly debuts for three films, Fox’s “Toys,” Paramount’s “Leap of Faith” and Warner Bros.’ “Forever Young.”

Columbia’s “A Few Good Men” looks to be the weekend leader if the distrib’s projection of $ 11 million holds, followed by Buena Vista’s “Aladdin” with an estimated $ 7 million to $ 7.3 million and Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York ,” which is looking at between $ 6.3 million and $ 6.8 million for the period.

Depending on the strength of Sunday biz, totals for the top 10 films could finish about even with, or maybe slightly higher than, last year — somewhere between $ 51 million and $ 55 million. The reason for such a spread, say industry distribution chiefs, is that some schools have let out for the holidays , and Sunday could reflect that. But rather than overestimate, some distribs are being cautious.

After several successive weekends of explosive business, the past weekend, while still strong, reflected the moderate-to-poor performance of a trio of Christmas releases.

The opening of Warners’ “Forever Young” was nothing to weep over, but no champagne bottles are being uncorked either. With between $ 5.3 million and $ 5. 7 million on 1,710 screens, the Mel Gibson romance will barely edge past the Kevin Costner pleaser “The Bodyguard,” which will reap about $ 5.1 million to $ 5.5 million, off around 30%, with $ 59 million so far. But “Forever” is expected to see some upswing through the holidays.

Both Fox and Par would have been happy with such downbeat news. The former’s “Toys” is expected to do no better than $ 4.4 million to $ 5 million on 1,272 screens. Its per-screen average is slightly better than “Forever Young” but its long-term prospects are considered less than optimum.

‘Leap’ falls short

Paramount’s “Leap of Faith” is reporting a $ 3.3 million projection for the weekend, though other sources have it as low as $ 3 million. The serious Steve Martin effort– and Paramount’s solo excursion for the season–is on 1,554 screens. Its frostbitten per-screen debut is in the $ 2,000 area. Friday opened to a miserly $ 1 million and Saturday was at only $ 1.3 million.

Two-theater break of Fox’s “Used People” yielded about $ 49,000 over the weekend, a good show for the adult-oriented comedy.

If Sunday biz is as strong as expected for “A Few Good Men,” the nation’s No. 1 film will live up to Col’s $ 11 million-or-better weekend projection, off less than 30%.

Other sources have it closer to $ 10 million. Friday business was down 37% to $ 3.2 million and Saturday was off 28% to $ 4.57 million, says Castle Rock principal Martin Shafer. So the film needs a sterling Sunday to meet its goal.

With more than $ 30 million collected in 10 days, however, everyone should have such problems.

Buena Vista has cause for ebullience in the imperceptible drop (5% tops) in “Aladdin” business as the holiday winner moved into 1,502 runs. The animated feature should tackle $ 7 million to $ 7.3 million for the weekend, bringing it up to $ 59 million to date. And starting Christmas Day, when it will be on 2,000 or so screens, the film is likely to enjoy 10 days of uninterrupted bliss.

Fox’s “Home Alone 2″ should follow a similar upbeat holiday business pattern. Its acceptable decline was in the 20%-25% area, to between $ 6.3 million and $ 6 .8 million for the weekend, bringing “Home” to just under $ 110 million to date.

BV’s other holiday stocking stuffer, “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” should be down less than 25% to between $ 3.8 million and $ 4.2 million. And while it’s not a stellar performer, with between $ 10 million and $ 11 million to date, the film should make a decent showing in its attenuated run.

Not so BV’s third entry for the season, “The Distinguished Gentleman,” which has made less than $ 24 million in 17 days and was down over 35% for the weekend to between $ 3.2 million and $ 3.5 million.

Warners’ “Malcolm X” lost more ground (about 33%) and some theaters (down to 1,202 screens) over the weekend, finishing 10th with about $ 1.2 million and close to $ 38 million so far.

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