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Sunday punch for ‘Titanic’

Auds raise $28.6 mil for disaster pic; 'Tomorrow' takes in $25.1 mil

Packed theaters were the order of the day once again on Sunday for weekend box office titan “Titanic.”

The James Cameron-helmed disaster pic grossed a mighty $9.3 million Sunday, finishing the frame with a $28.6 million total, up $1.1 million from Paramount’s weekend estimates.

MGM’s “Tomorrow Never Dies,” on the other hand, fell nearly a million dollars short of the studio’s Sunday projection, chalking up a still muscular $25.1 million tally for the weekend.

“Titanic’s” strong Sunday showing — a jump of 8% over Friday’s $8.6 million take — reflects to some degree the period pic’s older core audience. The younger-skewing Bond film, on the other hand, was down substantially on Sunday compared to Friday.

Nonetheless, “Tomorrow” surpassed most industry expectations, which generally hovered between $21 million and $22 million.

The two pictures powered the top 60 films to a staggering $99.3 million weekend total. Business was up 17% from the comparable frame last year, when Paramount’s “Beavis & Butt-head Do America” bowed to $20.1 million.

The presence of the blockbuster pair helped the marketplace expand by a healthy 22% from the previous weekend’s $77.8 million.

Much has been made of “Titanic’s” 3 hour, 14 minute running time, which theoretically limits to three the number of shows in a given theater. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that many multiplexes across the country are offering the Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet starrer on more than one screen, allowing for six or more showtimes.

In fact, while “Titanic” is playing in 2,674 theaters, the studio shipped over 3,700 prints. In AMC’s huge Ontario Mills megaplex, for instance, six of the 30 screens are devoted to the sinking of the great ship.

The megaplex phenomenon may even have an effect on some viewers’ reluctance to sit through a three hour-plus epic. With showtimes as frequent as every half hour in some spots, auds may not even realize they’re in for a movie marathon.

Paramount pushed exhibitors to not only open the film in multiple auditoriums but to hold the extra screens for at least two weeks, despite the onslaught of five new wide releases on Christmas Day.

“We took a hard line,” said Wayne Lewellen, Paramount distribution president. “We felt we had a strong picture and we stuck to our guns.”

The question now, of course, is how well the two films will hold up in the coming weeks.

It’s not uncommon for holiday releases, particularly family films, to see an increase during the Christmas frame. Last year, Buena Vista’s “101 Dalmatians” jumped from a pre-Noel take of $7 million to a post-Christmas haul of $11.4 million. Sony’s “Jerry Maguire” moved up less dramatically, from $13.1 million to $14 million.

This year, Christmas and New Year’s each fall on Thursdays, pretty much a best-case scenario for the film biz.

But “Titanic” and “Tomorrow” will have to share the increased audience with five newcomers: Sony’s “As Good As it Gets,” BV’s “Mr. Magoo” and “An American Werewolf in Paris,” Warner Bros.’ “The Postman” and Miramax’s “Jackie Brown.”

While none of these films is likely to open to “Titanic” numbers, each will have its constituency and there is simply a limit to how much the market can expand.

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