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Boat, Bond buoy boffo B.O.

'Titanic' slips past 'Tomorrow' in seaworthy B.O. weekend

It was the boat over Bond by a nose in the long-awaited weekend matchup between Paramount and 20th Century Fox’s “Titanic” and MGM’s “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

Both films won big at the domestic box office, however, with the megabudgeted “Titanic” launching to an epic $27.5 million and “Tomorrow” dawning to an explosive $26 million, according to studio estimates.

While those projections may prove overly optimistic, the two pictures clearly drove a dramatic expansion of the marketplace.

Total ticket sales for films grossing over $500,000 were estimated at about $90 million, up nearly 20% from last weekend and 12% from the comparable frame last year.

“Scream 2” came in a distant third with $14 million, following Miramax’s embarrassing admission Friday that it had overreported the scarefest’s opening gross by more than $6 million. The Wes Craven-helmed horror pic plummeted 57% from the revised debut of $32.9 million.

DreamWorks’ “Mouse Hunt” squeaked into fourth place with a slightly cheesy $6.3 million in 2,152 houses.

The openings of “Titanic” and “Tomorrow Never Dies” were particularly impressive in light of the fact that until this year, only one December release had ever bowed to more than $20 million. (Paramount’s “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” debuted exactly a year ago at $20.1 million.)

Working in their favor was the fact that the two pictures attracted somewhat different crowds.

For “Titanic,” females outnumbered males 57% to 43%, whereas for the Bond film, the gender blend favored men 60% to 40%. Auds for “Titanic” were generally older, with 55% of those in attendance over 25 years of age, while 60% of “Tomorrow” viewers were under 25. Not surprisingly, “Tomorrow” sold more tickets on Friday night while “Titanic” was the B.O. winner Saturday.

Both films played well across the country, but “Titanic” seemed to do slightly better in small-town America.

“They’re pulling ahead in the heartland where ‘Bond’ films have historically not done as well because they’ve traditionally been thought of as British and somewhat talky,” said Larry Gleason, MGM worldwide distribution president.

Gleason said he believed positive word of mouth and the film’s high action content would eventually help it to play in Peoria.

Both films appear to be off to strong starts internationally, as well. So far, “Tomorrow” is outperforming the previous Bond installment, “Goldeneye,” in several key European territories, according to Gleason.

“Titanic,” on the other hand, is going full steam ahead in the South Pacific, where it opened this weekend.

Fox Intl. president Jim Gianopulos estimates a $3 million opening weekend in Australia, which would give it the second-best Fox showing ever Down Under, behind 1996’s “Independence Day.”

In Asia, meanwhile, the picture sold out a Saturday evening show in Tokyo’s key Nichegeki theater and set house records in nine Hong Kong hardtops.

Still, it will be a long voyage to profitability for the James Cameron-helmed disaster pic. While several recent news reports have repeated assertions by Fox execs that the studio will break even on the picture if it grosses $350 million worldwide, sources at both Fox and Paramount have said privately the number is closer to $450 million.

That’s no surprise given the film’s reported production budget of about $200 million and prints and advertising costs that are likely to top $75 million. Slightly less than half of box office receipts go to the studio.

Meanwhile, another tale of an ill-fated Atlantic crossing, DreamWorks’ “Amistad,” is facing rough waters.

Despite multiple Golden Globe nominations and a 50% increase in playdates from the previous weekend, the picture dropped 29% to $3.3 million. While the film’s per-screen average was a muscular $6,875 million, the picture did not expand as well as the studio had hoped.

After 10 days, the Steven Spielberg-helmed courtroom period drama has cumed $9.7 million. Barring a strong showing at Oscar time, the film now appears on track to top out at somewhere between $35 million and $40 million. That could spell red ink for a film that cost about $75 million to make and market, according to statements made by the studio during its legal battle over authorship.

In its second weekend, Fine Line’s “Deconstructing Harry” dropped 27% to $260,000 in 10 locations, or $26,000 per screen. Cume for the Woody Allen comedy is $782,000.

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