'Dalmations' digs up $33.5 mil. over Turkey Day

:Once all the spots were counted, Buena Vista’s “101 Dalmatians” dug up a record-breaking $33.5 million over the three-day Thanksgiving Day weekend, burying the previous Turkey Day record of $29.1 million, set by BV’s “Toy Story” last year, by more than 15%.

However, total ticket sales for the top 60 films fell shy of 1995’s record tally: This year’s $113.3 million aggregate was down 1.5% from last year’s $115.1 million.

“Dalmatians,” the weekend’s only wide release, easily dominated the frame, with nearly twice the grossing power of the second place film, Par’s “Star Trek: First Contact.” Still, several holdovers enjoyed modest drops – and in some cases, even slight gains – over the holiday weekend.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Jingle All the Way” got into the spirit with a 5% boost, possibly attracting spillover from sold out showings of “Dalmatians.” The Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy picked up $12.7 million in 2,404 shops for a $5,271 average.

Meanwhile, BV’s “Ransom” was off just 5%, abducting $12.5 million in 2,588 situations for a $4,823 average. New Line’s four-week-old “Set It Off” also held up well, slipping just 3% to $3.2 million in 1,016 heists for a solid $3,180 average.

On the other hand, Paramount’s No. 2-ranked “Star Trek: First Contact” suffered a 42% plunge from its powerful debut the previous weekend. The eighth bigscreen installment of the sci-fi franchise grossed $17.8 million in 2,812 galaxies for a $6,330 average.

The marketplace remained extremely top-heavy with the five highest-grossing films accounting for nearly 80% of weekend total.

The sheer volume of high-profile films in the marketplace has distributors scrambling to secure – and hold – firstrun screens.

“There are only 14,000 firstrun screens,” noted Tom Sherak, senior exec VP of Fox Filmed Entertainment, who said that distributors have been forced to book screens they wouldn’t normally book, including some in neighboring multiplexes. “You take screens close together, hoping that if you lose one theater, you’ll still be on screen somewhere in that area.”

The problem will only get worse as Christmas approaches: Next week the Stallone actioner “Daylight” surfaces, followed on Dec. 13 by BV’s “The Preacher’s Wife,” TriStar’s “Jerry Maguire” and WB’s “Mars Attacks.” Then on Dec. 20 Columbia’s “Ghosts of Mississippi,” Fox’s “One Fine Day” and Paramount’s “Beavis and Butt-head” hit the bigscreen.

Sherak said: “The question becomes ‘Will you make it from Thanksgiving to Christmas?’ ”

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