Leo vs. Leo in dead heat

DiCaprio topliners 'Mask,' 'Titanic' in $17.5 mil tie

The weekend battle of Leo vs. Leo was simply too close to call, according to the distributors of dueling Leonardo DiCaprio starrers “Titanic” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.” Paramount and MGM on Sunday each projected $17.5 million weekends for their respective films, agreeing to wait until today to crown the three-day box office king.

Whatever the final outcome, “Titanic’s” weekend tally was enough to propel it to the top of the all-time domestic grossers chart. On Saturday, its 86th day in release, the James Cameron-helmed disaster pic bypassed “Star Wars’ ” $461 million lifetime cume, including reissues.

Paramount estimated “Titanic” would finish the weekend — its 13th — with a record $471 million.

Despite the photo finish, MGM execs were understandably thrilled with “The Man in the Iron Mask’s” opening. “It’s a hell of a gross for a period action piece,” said Larry Gleason, MGM worldwide distribution president. “Clearly DiCaprio’s bringing a whole new audience to a genre that usually attracts an older, male crowd.”

According to exit polls in five major markets Saturday, 56% of the film’s audience was female, and 42% were under 25.

“We didn’t want to get into a pissing match,” said Gleason, of the decision to report a tie. Still, Gleason said he was confident the swashbuckler would come out on top when the final tally was counted on Monday.

‘Titanic’s Saturday recovery

“The Man in the Iron Mask” was well ahead of “Titanic” on Friday as swarms of new DiCaprio fans headed into theaters to get another dose of their heartthrob. But “Titanic” came thundering back on Saturday, up about 85% compared to “Mask’s” inauspicious 22% bump. Both companies were predicting strong Sunday attendance.

Written and directed by “Braveheart” scribe Randall Wallace, “Iron Mask” opened well above “Braveheart’s” $12.8 million bow. Still, given its lukewarm reception by critics, “Mask” — which cost about $45 million to make, according to sources — will probably have a tough time matching “Braveheart’s” $75.6 million domestic total.

Most industry observers expect “Titanic” to resurface as the B.O. ruler in the coming weekend, unless Universal’s political satire “Primary Colors” runs a particularly strong race.

Moving down a notch to third place in its second outing was Warner Bros.’ “U.S. Marshals.” The Tommy Lee Jones-Wesley Snipes actioner dropped 34% to a studio-estimated $11.1 million. Warner Bros. distribution president Barry Reardon said he expects the film to finish its domestic run in the $60 million range.

Another sophomore, Gramercy’s “The Big Lebowski,” was off 36% to $3.5 million in 1,235 lanes.

Results for last weekend’s two other wide openers were less impressive: Paramount’s “Twilight” and Sony’s “Hush” dropped 44% and 43%, respectively, to finish the weekend with $3.3 million each.

Oscar contenders score

With the Academy Awards looming, Oscar contenders fared extremely well over the weekend: Miramax’s “Good Will Hunting” dropped just 7% to 4.8 million; Sony’s “As Good as It Gets” was down only 4% to $3.1 million; Warners’ “L.A. Confidential” was down only 1% at $1.4 million; and October’s “The Apostle” slipped 13% to $1.3 million.

“I think a lot of people want to see all of the major nominees before Oscar night,” said Mark Zucker, Sony executive VP distribution. “All of the Academy pictures should play well up to –and for a few weeks after — the Oscars.”

Trimark’s Carrot Top starrer “Chairman of the Board” opened with little fanfare, harvesting $175,000 in 196 gardens or a meager $893 per crop.

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