First and goal for ‘Sunday’

Grid pic nips 'Ripley' as adult fare rules Yule

Perhaps the real reason Santa brings toys for tots is so that the gizmos keep them busy while parents can slip out to catch a movie.

Witness the weekend: With the final Christmas of the millennium falling awkwardly on a Saturday, two pics aimed at grownups ruled the frame and four of the top six films courted mature auds.

Less than half a million dollars separated the No. 1 pic, Warner Bros.’ “Any Given Sunday,” from the No. 2, Paramount’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Latter pic, which Par co-financed with Miramax, opened on Saturday, giving it one less B.O. day than “Sunday.”

The two kid pics that were the exception, Sony’s “Stuart Little” and Disney’s “Toy Story 2,” tied for third at $12.5 million.

“This weekend favors adults,” said Jeff Blake, distrib chief at Sony. “But it’s also an odd weekend, and the weekday numbers are so huge that it’s hard to judge. The marketplace favors different kinds of pictures every day of the week.”

Industrywide three-day take should be about $110 million, ACNielsen EDI predicted. That’s nowhere near the all-time Yule mark of $148 million set last year. Blame the dip on the fact that Christmas fell on Saturday, for the first time since 1993.

On the upside, though, overall B.O. for the year broke $7 billion for the first time. That’s up about 9% over last year’s record.

Looking at the ’93 pattern, most distribs figured Sunday’s number would roughly equal the sum of Friday and Saturday. But that ballooned the weight of the Sunday estimate, usually the smallest piece of the weekend pie. Consequently, various studio estimates on some films differed by millions of dollars.

Those factors mean this Monday hangover could be worse than usual for some distribs, in that today’s official results could actually alter the chart’s order, not just its tallies.

The Sunday numbers may not have been firm, but they did reveal some choice nuggets:

  • With Universal’s “Man on the Moon,” Jim Carrey got pile-drivered in his worst-ever weekend bow. Even in Wednesday debut, helmer Milos Forman’s Andy Kaufman biopic finished fourth for the day.

  • “Anna and the King” fell just 10%, but pic looks like an exclamation point on Fox’s disappointing year. The $429.9 million cume of “Star Wars, Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which the studio had little to do with creatively, exceeds the combined gross of the rest of the studio’s 21 releases.

  • Warners’ “The Green Mile” suffered the biggest drop of any Top 10 pic, 29%. Passed over in the major Golden Globe noms, pic needs Oscar juice to approach $100 million. Cume entering week 3 is estimated at $52.8 million.

Stone’s end zone

One player who doesn’t need to sweat every nuance of the holiday B.O. is Oliver Stone. He knows he’s on top with “Sunday,” a football-themed pic starring Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz. Plus, it’s the highest-grossing weekend — debut or otherwise — of Stone’s 14-film helming career.

With a running time of 2 hours 40 minutes and a gridiron focus, “Sunday” didn’t look early on like a sure thing at the box office. But racially diverse cast, kinetic style and release one month before the Super Bowl helped push pic over initial goal line. It’s eating up yardage on the way to recouping reported $65 million production cost.

Film’s 2,505 playdates is a lot for Stone; many of his pics have been platform releases.

“I felt it was commercial, so I went for it,” explained Warners distrib chief Dan Fellman.

On the strength of “Sunday” and “Mile,” Warners is a virtual lock to finish second behind Disney in the 1999 market-share race. Fellman expects to hit $1 billion for the year by Monday for the first time in studio history.

Perhaps frame’s most intriguing title, though, was “Ripley,” which pulled off Matt Damon’s best weekend bow as a star.

Miramax ripples

Pic, directed by “English Patient” helmer Anthony Minghella and also toplining Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, is a brooding thriller set in Italy. Its two-day gross was molte reassuring for Miramax, which will distribute overseas.

A fairly flat arc is likely for “Ripley,” given next weekend’s similarly odd New Year’s layout. But Par will be able to concentrate on nurturing the film. Studio’s next release, the Chevy Chase comedy “Snow Day,” is more than six weeks away.

Miramax, similarly, has nearly a month before “Down to You” and then “Scream 3.”

If “Ripley” can follow through with receipts and awards, it could salvage a rough year for the Disney specialty arm.

“The Cider House Rules,” which was left off several critics’ top 10 lists, managed an estimated $625,000 over the weekend after expanding Saturday to 328 screens. But that worked out to a paltry $1,905 per location. A wide release is planned for Jan. 7.

“Mansfield Park” fared even worse, expanding to 152 screens from 41 and totaling $190,000, or about $1,250 per site.

Par has more than just “Ripley” to tout. “Angela’s Ashes,” the adaptation of Frank McCourt’s bestselling tome helmed by Alan Parker, bowed to $60,000 on six screens.

“Angela” typified a limited arena populated by studio efforts that didn’t start any B.O. fires. New Line sophomore “Magnolia” held up well, collecting $140,000 on nine screens for an average of $15,556. Cume of the Paul Thomas Anderson drama is $440,000.

‘Topsy’ tops

Limited-release champ was “Topsy-Turvy,” USA’s Gilbert and Sullivan period pic. Playing only at the Paris in Gotham, it scored $33,126 for the frame, up 8% from last week.

Universal launched “Snow Falling on Cedars,” another lit adaptation. Pic took in $29,000, or an average of $9,700 at each of three sites.

Sony’s “Girl, Interrupted” came off an unusual Tuesday bow to tally $118,000 for the weekend on nine screens, for an average of $13,079. Winona Ryder-Angelina Jolie starrer will go wide Jan. 14, with about 1,800 runs.

“The End of the Affair,” another limited Sony effort, added 49 sites on Saturday for a total of 58. Weekend estimate was $261,000 for an average of $4,500.

Sony Classics widened out two ongoing arthouse pics, “Sweet and Lowdown” and “All About My Mother.” Woody Allen’s “Sweet” gathered $182,467 on 29 screens, for an average of $6,292. Cume is $615,345. “Mother,” directed by Pedro Almodovar, reaped $292,459, or $3,179 at each of 92 sites. That lifts cume to $1.5 million.

Fox toted up $25,000 on “Titus” in two venues. Shakespeare pic debuted in L.A. and Gotham on Christmas Day.

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