Ship-shape Christmas B.O. booms

'Titanic' climbs to $35.6 million to lead record three-day frame

In the second weekend of its celebrated voyage, Paramount and 20th Century Fox’s “Titanic” swelled 20% to a towering $35.6 million, swamping box office records and propelling the crowded marketplace to a projected all-time three-day high.

James Cameron’s retelling of the great ship’s demise enjoyed the best-ever December weekend gross, torpedoing the $32.9 million record set earlier this month by “Scream 2.” On Thursday, the picture reached a new Christmas Day high-water mark of $9.2 million, topping the $6 million Yuletide bow of “The Godfather, Part III.” “Titanic” collected passengers in 2,711 ports, or $13,132 per location, bringing its 10-day cume to $88.6 million.

Finishing a distant second, MGM’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” dropped 16% to a still-powerful $21 million. After its second weekend in release, the 18th James Bond installment has cumed $62 million domestically.

Total ticket sales for the three-day frame should add up to a record $142 million. That’s a 43% expansion from last week and a jump of better than 24% from this time last year.

Among the five wide newcomers, Sony’s “As Good As It Gets” came out on top with a studio-estimated $12.5 million gross in just 1,572 hardtops. That gave the James Brooks-helmed comedy a promising $7,952 per site.

“It’s good news for the market in general that a film like this can finish third in this environment,” said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing. “It’s not special effects-driven or calculated to reach the hot teen market. It’s a well-written, well-directed, well-acted movie about real people.”

So far, the Jack Nicholson-Helen Hunt starrer is appealing overwhelmingly to audiences over 30, with an almost equal mix of men and women. But based on strong exit poll results, Blake is optimistic that positive word of mouth and awards will help expand the picture’s audience base.

The biggest loser of the new crop was Warner Bros.’ “The Postman.” Kevin Costner’s costly post-apocalyptic epic landed in 10th place with a studio-estimated $5.3 million. The three hour-plus film arrived in 2,207 mailboxes, or $2,401 per zip code. The poor showing put a capper on a year of star-studded, big-budget disappointments for Warner Bros.

Of the half-dozen family films in the market, the Christmas weekend favorite turned out to be DreamWorks’ “Mouse Hunt.” The broad comedy grossed $10 million, a 65% jump over last weekend’s inauspicious debut. “Mouse Hunt,” the feature debut of commercial helmer Gore Verbinski, has cumed $21.7 million in its first 10 days.

DreamWorks distribution topper Jim Tharp on Sunday predicted the film would finish somewhere between $40 million and $50 million.

Another newcomer, Miramax’s “Jackie Brown,” managed a solid $8.9 million in 1,370 pads for a healthy $6,423 per screen. But ticket sales for the Quentin Tarantino-helmed film declined steadily after its Christmas Day opening, suggesting a fast burn-off. The audience for the Pam Grier/Samuel Jackson starrer was about 60% male and roughly half African-American, according to a Miramax spokesman.

“Jackie Brown” was the No. 5 grosser for the weekend, according to Miramax, which projected weekend grosses for its holdover, “Scream 2,” at $8.8 million. But in an unusual twist, most industry observers — including rival studio execs — put the horror sequel at well over $10 million for the frame.

The mini-major, apparently chastened by its admitted overreporting on “Scream 2’s” opening weekend — and the resulting furor within corporate parent the Walt Disney Co. — has, for now at least, opted for an ultraconservative approach to its Sunday estimates.

Also opening better than expected was Buena Vista’s “An American Werewolf in Paris,” which finished in the No. 7 slot. The horror sequel grossed $7.8 million, taking a significant bite out of “Scream 2’s” target teen audience.

BV’s Thanksgiving opener “Flubber” expanded 36% over the previous weekend, grossing $5.8 million and bringing its cume to $73.4 million. That was enough to top Disney’s live-action feature version of “Mr. Magoo,” which found its way to only a $5.5 million opening, and landed in ninth place.

Among limited openers, BV’s “Kundun” grossed $70,000 in two theaters; New Line’s “Wag the Dog” scratched up $88,000 in three locations; and Fine Line’s “The Winter Guest” grossed a chilly $20,000 in three sites.

DreamWorks’ “Amistad” expanded 55% to $5.1 million after increasing its theater count from 480 to 712, giving the Steven Spielberg-directed historical drama a sturdy $7,157 average. But with a 19-day cume of $17.7 million, the film appears likely to finish well short of company expectations.

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