Pic biz facing festive frame

‘Tis the season to be jolly — especially for the film industry, which is about to embark on one of the busiest moviegoing weeks of the year.

But some studio execs are more nervous than cheerful as they face a potential Christmas Day massacre when Hollywood unleashes five new wide releases and a major expansion into an already crowded marketplace.

The life-and-death question confronting the freshman entries is just how much the moviegoing audience will expand over last weekend’s $99.3 million total.

Last year, the yuletide frame jumped 38% over the previous weekend; 1995 saw a 57% improvement. This year, with Christmas falling on a Thursday, the bump could be even higher, meaning a three-day total of $150 million or more.

Despite the rash of newcomers, most observers expect last week’s frontrunners — Paramount’s “Titanic,” MGM’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” and Miramax’s “Scream 2” —to remain in the top three slots through the weekend.

With the dramatic increase in available viewers, “Titanic” could hold steady or even improve on its $28.5 million opening. The James Cameron-helmed disaster pic was moving full steam ahead as the week began, picking up a powerful $5.6 million Monday.

Action films and sequels tend to burn off more quickly, and if midweek numbers are any indication, the 18th Bond film will probably see a significant drop from its $25.1 million debut. The picture grossed $3.4 million Monday. “Scream 2” should also a see a slight drop from its $13.9 million performance last weekend.

That leaves another dozen or so contenders scrapping over the remainder of the holiday pie.

Fourth place looks to be a horse race between Sony’s “As Good As It Gets” and Miramax’s “Jackie Brown.”

So far, interest in the weekend’s three other newcomers — Warner Bros.’ “The Postman,” and Buena Vista’s “Mr. Magoo” and “An American Werewolf in Paris” — appears modest. In part because of the sheer quantity of releases, the new pictures have had a hard time making an impression on viewers.

Christmas week is traditionally a boon for family films, but that market too could be a victim of the holiday glut. “Mouse Hunt” and “Flubber” will have to split the tot vote with “Home Alone 3,” “Magoo” and Fox’s “Anastasia.”

Even upscale and specialized films are not exempt from Christmas madness, with “Ma Vie en Rose,” “Afterglow,” “The Winter Guest,” “Kundun” and “Wag the Dog” all opening in exclusives.

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