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AGENT MATCHES ANGEL

'Maguire,' 'Michael' HIT $12.5M

The weekend face-off between John Travolta’s irreverent angel “Michael” and Tom Cruise’s repentant sports agent “Jerry Maguire” ended in a split decision, as New Line and Sony each posted $12.5 million estimates and even some rival studio execs agreed the match was too close to call.

Apparently, moviegoers remained in a holiday mood as weekend ticket sales reached an estimated $91 million for all pictures grossing over $500,000. That’s a 22% improvement over the Jan. 5-7 weekend last year, and only a 16% drop from the post-Christmas weekend.

Audiences had plenty of choices: There are 17 wide releases in the marketplace; of those, 10 are less than four weeks into their runs.

‘Scream’ surprise

Miramax/Dimension’s “Scream” provided the biggest surprise of the weekend – and the holiday period. In its third weekend, the Wes Craven-helmed horror pic landed at No. 3, with a $10.1 million projected gross. The film, which reportedly cost about $15 million to make and $20 million to market and distribute, has already cumed $39.1 million since its Dec. 20 debut.

The youth-oriented pic’s strong showing is particularly surprising given its release at a time of the year when movies targeted at young men have traditionally foundered. While many observers – including even some Miramax execs – believed opening “Scream” during the Christmas period was a mistake, Miramax co-chairman Bob Weinstein was convinced the counterprogramming would pay off.

“I saw it coming. There were so many of these ‘upscale’ films for females all fighting for the same audience,” he said.

Counting down the top 10, Sony’s “Jerry Maguire” negotiated its $12.5 million payday in 2,531 deals for a $4,939 per-screen average. Off just 11% from the post-Christmas weekend, the Cameron Crowe-helmed romantic comedy has cumed $83.5 million after 24 days in theaters.

” ‘Jerry Maguire’ started out the Christmas season at No. 1 and ended at No. 1, after surviving some tough competition,” said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing. Blake noted that “Maguire” has cumed $6 million more than Cruise’s December 1992 film “A Few Good Men” had after its first 24 days. “Men” went on to cume $141.1 million.

New Line’s “Michael” earned its wings on 2,181 clouds for a $5,731 average. Twelve days into its run, the Nora Ephron fantasy has cumed $52.8 million.

A draw?

While some box office observers differed about which of the two films would come out on top, others simply called it a draw.

Projections were hindered by the fact that New Line does not report a daily breakdown of its actual box office results. It is the only major distributor that gives out only total weekend and weekly grosses.

“Scream” scared up $10.1 million, up 11% after expanding its run from 1,450 to 1,737 screens. That’s a per-screen of $5,777.

Dropping from third to fourth was Buena Vista’s “101 Dalmatians,” off 35% to $7.4 million on 2,702 screens for a $2,739 average. Cume after 40 days is $121.8 million.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “One Fine Day” dipped just 15% to $6.8 million in 1,970 relationships for a $3,452 average. Now in its third week, the George Clooney-Michelle Pfeiffer romantic comedy has cumed $32.8 million.

While disappointed that the film did not emerge as one of the top Christmas pics, Fox senior exec VP Tom Sherak said the studio continues to support the film, which it believes can still hit $50 million in North America.

At No. 6, Paramount’s “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” took the biggest hit of the top 10 pics, dropping 41% to $6 million in 2,417 situations for a $2,482 average. Still, the surprise hit has cumed a totally cool $54.4 million after 17 days.

In seventh place, Castle Rock and Columbia’s “Ghosts of Mississippi” was sentenced to a $5.3 million gross in its first wide weekend. In 1,268 courtrooms, the Rob Reiner-helmed true-life drama averaged $4,180 per trial. Cume is $6.1 million.

BV’s “The Preacher’s Wife” was off 29% to $5.2 million in 2,001 congregations for a $2,598 average. Cume after 24 days is $37.5 million.

Ninth place was a tie between two film from Warner Bros., which suffered a dreary Christmas season: “Mars Attacks!” fell 29% to $3.6 million on 1,901 spaceships for a $1,893 average and a $34 million cume, while “My Fellow Americans” lost 14% of its support, grossing $3.6 million in 1,865 polling places for a $1,917 average. Cume after 17 days is $18.3 million.

In less than two weeks in release, Rysher and Paramount’s Christmas opener “The Evening Star” fell to No. 13. Off 30% to $2.3 million on 1,268 prints, or $1,814 per screen, the “Terms of Endearment” sequel has cumed $10.1 million after 12 days.

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