Ear-splitting ‘Scream’ at B.O.

Sequel shatters records with $39.2 mil

Miramax/Dimension’s horror sequel “Scream 2” stalked off with an estimated $39.2 million over the weekend, slashing box office records and shocking even the most wildly optimistic industry prognosticators.

The Wes Craven-helmed pic enjoyed the biggest non-summer opening ever, topping the $37.8 million bow of “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls,” in November 1995. “Scream 2” nearly doubled the December opening record of $20.1 million, set last year by Paramount’s “Beavis and Butt-head.” It was by far the biggest weekend in Miramax history, nearly tripling the $13.5 million debut of this summer’s “Cop Land.”

The killer opening means “Scream 2” is now likely to be a significant factor this weekend when Paramount’s “Titanic” and MGM’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” go toe-to-toe in a long-anticipated face-off. Even with a dropoff of 50%, “Scream 2” would gross nearly $20 million in its sophomore weekend. Most of those ticket buyers will be teenagers and young adults, also seen as the core constituencies of the other two front-runners.

The weekend total for all films grossing $500,000 or more was estimated at about $78 million, up a staggering 22% from this time last year. “Scream 2” accounted for about half of all ticket sales.

The original “Scream,” which reportedly cost a modest $14 million to make, opened to $6.4 million on 1,413 screens last December. To the surprise of many — including some top Miramax execs — it went on to gross more than $100 million domestically.

“Scream 2,” which cost about $24 million to produce, has already sold more tickets in its first three days than “Scream” did after 15.

Preliminary exit poll results bode well for the new film’s longevity, according to Miramax senior VP David Kaminow. “Eighty percent to 92% of those who had seen the original said they liked ‘Scream 2’ more or the same,” Kaminow said. “That’s pretty much the dream for anyone distributing a sequel.”

Kaminow said auds consisted overwhelmingly of 16-to-25-year-olds and skewed slightly female.

‘Flubber’ hangs in

Bouncing along at a distant second was Buena Vista’s “Flubber,” down 39% to $6.9 million. The picture, the most successful among November openers, has cumed $59 million.

Third place went to Universal and the Bubble Factory’s comedy “For Richer or Poorer.” The Tim Allen-Kirstie Alley starrer pitchforked $6 million in 1,904 barns for a $3,151 average.

Not all sequels fared well over the weekend, however.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Home Alone 3” was left with just $5.1 million in 2,145 houses or $2,377 per screen. That’s a mere shadow of the $31.1 million three-day bow of “Home Alone 2” in November 1992. That picture went on to gross $173 million; the 1990 original debuted at $17 million on its way to $286 million.

DreamWorks’ Steven Spielberg-helmed period courtroom drama “Amistad” captured an impressive $4.6 million in 322 dockets for a powerful $14,286 average.

The results cheered DreamWorks execs, who said they may now accelerate the film’s platform release. “It plays much more broadly than I had anticipated,” said DreamWorks distribution chief Jim Tharp. The film attracted large numbers of both African-Americans and whites, according to Tharp. The audiences were mostly older, with women slightly outnumbering men — somewhat anomalous for a film with no significant adult female roles. The company had planned to add 125 situations on Friday and an additional 250 on Christmas Day, but DreamWorks may now try to boost those numbers.

The release pattern is already expanding faster than that of Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” the $96 million Oscar winner to which DreamWorks execs often compare “Amistad.”

But while “Schindler’s” swept the first three critics groups’ annual pic awards — the National Board of Review plus the New York and L.A. organizations — “Amistad” has so far been ignored by critics groups. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything about “Amistad’s” chances with the Academy, however. Last year’s big Oscar winner, “The English Patient,” was also shut out by the critics.

Big average for ‘Harry’

Fine Line’s “Deconstructing Harry” grossed $325,000 at 10 locations in New York and L.A. for a sizable $32,500 average.

Sony offered sneak previews of James Brooks’ “As Good As It Gets” in 555 locations, mostly with Paramount’s “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker.” The shows averaged about 90% capacity with nearly two-thirds selling out completely, according to Sony Pictures Releasing president Jeff Blake.

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