Reissue nabs $13 mil in 'Titanic's' wake

Given the choice, American moviegoers apparently would rather see John Travolta as a nimble young greaser than as a cynical middle-aged president.

Paramount’s revival of the 1978 musical “Grease” opened to a studio-estimated $13 million, acing last weekend’s $12 million debut of Universal’s “Primary Colors.” It was the fourth-highest opening ever for a re-release; only Fox’s 1997 reissues of the three “Star Wars” films did better.

The wave of nostalgia wasn’t enough to capsize “Titanic,” however, which remained the No. 1 grosser for a 15th straight weekend. The film’s projected haul of $16 million pushed its North American cume to $516 million, making it the first picture ever to reach $500 million in its domestic run.

“Grease” collected a staggering $6 million in ticket sales Friday night, prompting early speculation that it would top “Titanic” for the weekend. But the picture saw a bizarre 30% drop on Saturday, making it clear “Titanic’s” winning streak was still safe.

“Grease’s” Saturday decline was probably a combination of two factors: the pic’s youthful core audience (teens and young adults tend to rush out on opening night) and unseasonably warm weather in much of the Northeast and Midwest, which took its toll on moviegoing in general.

“Titanic’s” falloff of 7% from the previous frame also surprised many box office observers — including Par execs — who had expected the pic’s record-tying 11 Academy Awards to result in a weekend increase.

Meanwhile, the weekend’s other two wide openers failed to spark much interest: 20th Century Fox’s “The Newton Boys” made off with just $4 million in 1,964 banks for an unpromising $2,037 per heist, while the Buena Vista kidpic “Meet the Deedles” bowed to $2.2 million in 1,763 locations or a pint-sized $1,248 per site.

Far more impressive was Miramax/Dimension’s mid-sized release of the Hudlin brothers’ “Ride.” The R-rated comedy grossed $2.6 million in 496 bus stops or $5,240 per depot.

Overall, North American ticket sales appeared on track to total around $85 million, flat with this time last year.

Three Oscar winners enjoyed substantial boosts. Sony’s “As Good As It Gets” jumped an estimated 32% to $4.3 million, after stars Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt took home acting awards. It probably didn’t hurt that Oscar night turned into a Nicholson love-fest, with a number of recipients and presenters paying homage to the veteran actor and 11-time nominee.

Also seeing post-Oscar increases were Miramax’s “Good Will Hunting” (up 7% to $4.3 million) and “L.A. Confidential” (up 14% to $1.7 million).

Meanwhile, top 10 holdovers that were not in the running on Oscar night all saw drops of 40% or more.

Three specialized releases proved inauspicious: Miramax’s “A Price Above Rubies” bowed to $36,000 in four New York and L.A. theaters for a $9,000 per-screen average; Gramercy’s Ed Burns-helmed “No Looking Back” found $41,200 in seven locations or $5,886 per site; and Polygram Films’ “The Proposition” picked up $62,000 in 17 situations for a $3,647 average.

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