Par pic sets December record; 'Maquire' holds 2nd place

Paramount and MTV Films’ animated feature “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” snickered all the way to the bank with an astounding studio-estimated $20.5 million weekend haul, making it the biggest December opener in movie history.

The totally ruling debut caught veteran industry observers – including execs at Paramount – off guard. Coming into the weekend, even the most optimistic predictions for the Mike Judge-helmed tooner were in the $12 million-$15 million range.

While those outside of MTV’s core demographic of 18-24-year-olds may find the strong showing a sign of the decline of Western civilization, the success is a shot in the arm for MTV’s fledgling film division, which seeks to translate the cable channel’s globally recognized brand name into bigscreen success. The film was reportedly a pet project of Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone.

Results were less spectacular for the weekend’s three other wide newcomers: 20th Century Fox’s “One Fine Day” and Miramax/Dimension’s horror pic “Scream” battled it out for fourth place with just over $6 million each, while Warner Bros.’ “My Fellow Americans” collected a dismal $2.8 million in its inaugural weekend.

Among Oscar-qualifying limited openers, the Castle Rock/Sony release “Ghosts of Mississippi” collected $175,000 in 21 trials for an $8,333 average; Miramax’s “Marvin’s Room” picked up $35,000 in exclusive runs in New York and L.A.; and New Line’s “In Love & War” limped to a $2,500 weekend on one L.A. screen in its Oscar-qualifying run.

‘Maguire’ holds up

TriStar’s sophomore “Jerry Maguire” led among wide holdovers, landing in second place with a solid $13.4 million, off just 22% from its auspicious debut. On the other hand, Warner Bros.’ “Mars Attacks!” plummeted 50% to gross $4.7 million in its second outing. Fox’s “The Crucible” staked out $630,000 after expanding from 3 to 136 screens.

Buoyed by Golden Globe nominations, Miramax’s “The English Patient” eased just 10% to $1.6 million, while Fine Line’s “Shine” slipped 23% to $104,000 in 10 concert halls.

Paramount theatrical distribution president Wayne Lewellen credited the publicity and marketing campaigns for “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” with driving the film’s initial success. While the film’s generally positive reviews probably were not a factor for most teenagers, he said, “They may have convinced some people who were on the fence.”

Terrif with teens

Not surprisingly, the PG-13-rated picture’s audience was predominantly teenage boys, for whom it was virtually the only game in town over the weekend. As is often the case with films with strong youth appeal, “Beavis” saw its strongest attendance – about $8.6 million – Friday, and dropped off Saturday, to $6.6 million. The studio estimated a Sunday take of just over $5.2 million.

While it’s difficult at this point to predict how “Beavis” will perform over the long haul, except in rare instances youth comedies usually drop off quickly, because interested teenagers tend to rush out on opening weekend.

In second place, Sony’s “Jerry Maguire” negotiated $13.4 million in 2,531 deals for a $5,294 average. Cume after 10 days is $36.6 million.

Buena Vista’s “101 Dalmatians” slid 24% to dig up $6.8 million in 2,901 spots for a $2,344 average. After 26 days in release, the live-action remake has grossed $84.6 million.

Waiting for ‘Day’

Fox’s “One Fine Day” dawned to a studio-estimated $6.1 million in 1,945 locations for a $3,116 average. While the bow is inauspicious, observers noted that it was still too early to count the film out, as its target audience of adult women is still largely occupied with Christmas preparations.

“Christmas movies that need women to make them work take a while to get going,” said Tom Sherak, senior exec VP of Fox Filmed Entertainment, who believes the film will fare better after Christmas, when more women are able to go to the movies. Last year, Paramount’s romantic comedy “Sabrina” opened to just $5.3 million on Dec. 15, and eventually went on to gross $53.7 million.

Miramax/Dimension projected Sunday that its “Scream” would finish the weekend with a $6.3 million gross. However, Daily Variety predicted the number would be closer to $6 million, given the film’s Friday and Saturday takes of $2.13 million and $2.24 million, respectively. The combination of the film’s small Saturday bump and its youthful core audience indicates the likelihood of a significant dropoff Sunday.

In 1,413 haunted houses, the Wes Craven-helmed thriller earned a $4,246 average.

‘Preacher’ at No. 6

In sixth place, Buena Vista’s “The Preacher’s Wife” dropped 31% to $5.3 million in 1,989 places of worship for a $2,665 average. After 10 days, the Penny Marshall-helmed remake has cumed $15.4 million.

WB’s “Mars Attacks!” dropped 50% to $4.7 million in 1,955 invasions, or $2,404 per screen. Cume after 10 days is $16.7 million.

At No. 8, Fox’s Schwarzenegger family adventure “Jingle All the Way” found $3 million in 2,112 toy stores for a $1,420 average. Off 29% from last weekend, the film has cumed $47.3 million in 31 days of release.

WB’s Jack Lemmon-James Garner starrer, “My Fellow Americans,” apparently didn’t hold the same appeal for older audiences as did the studio’s successful “Grumpy Old Men” franchise. The film grossed just $2.8 million in 1,915 polling places for an anemic $1,462 average.

In 10th place, Universal’s Stallone starrer “Daylight” continued its rapid descent, off 44% to $2.3 million in 1,993 situations, or $1,154 per site. After its third weekend, the disaster pic has cumed $20.2 million.

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