‘Sunday’ big, but weekend slow anyway

'Ripley' second in holiday race, '99 B.O. tops $7 bil mark

On any given Sunday, the movie business can break out of its usual pattern. But that may not be enough to salvage a slow weekend.

That is this week’s B.O. lesson as Warner Bros.’ “Any Given Sunday” claimed the Christmas title with $13.5 million. In second was “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” a Paramount-Miramax co-production that tallied $12.7 million in its first two days of release.

With Christmas falling on Saturday this year, those totals are well shy of the $25.3 million rung up by Yule ’98 winner “Patch Adams.” Universal’s pic propelled the business overall last year to a record three-day Christmas frame of $148 million.

Based on receipts of 75 films (some small distribs didn’t report due to the holiday), ACNielsen EDI gauged the total business in 1999 at $99.8 million.

Still, this year’s Sunday performance buoyed a lot of studio spirits. Coming off a feeble Friday of $18.3 million and a Saturday that saw grosses plummet nearly 50% from a year ago, distribs reported taking in $44.6 million on Sunday — up 79% from last week and down 3% from the same frame in 1998.

Plus, the Santa pause won’t taint the whole year’s gains, especially when impressive weekday results are included. B.O. for 1999 to date is up 9% over last year’s record level and has passed the $7 billion mark for the first time.

More impressively, admissions are poised to hit their highest level in four decades. About 1.5 billion tickets will be punched in 1999 — the fourth straight yearly increase.

Distribs had a much tougher task than usual trying to project the weekend numbers, given the holiday schedule. Sunday estimates for six of the top 10 films overshot the actual total by $1 million or more.

“We all had 1993 to use as a read,” said Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane, referring to the last time Christmas fell on a Saturday. “We thought that if you added Friday and Saturday together, it would give you Sunday. But we were all wrong.”

Disney, which had “Toy Story 2,” “Bicentennial Man” and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” in the top 10, predicted $12.5 million for “Toy,” but it actually did $10.4 million.

Warners, while overestimating a bit on “Sunday,” actually underplayed “The Green Mile.” Castle Rock-produced drama turned out to be the one film in the top 10 whose actual total exceeded the estimate. Warners predicted $9 million on Sunday; on Monday, the tally was $9.3 million.

Driving the Tom Hanks starrer was a 30% spike in Sunday receipts over Saturday’s. Other nonanimated films atop the chart were flat or even down a bit in that same span, according to Warners distrib chief Dan Fellman.

Other top adult-oriented films didn’t see nearly the upswing of “Green Mile.” Some even saw their numbers dwindle on Sunday.

Pics with kid appeal, like “Toy Story 2” or Sony’s “Stuart Little,” got more of a lift.

Tom Borys, prexy of ACNielsen EDI, said some films saw a relatively normal Sunday, as moviegoing on that day tends to reflect earlier bedtimes and the approach of another week.

“For we adults, it was back to work on Monday,” he said.

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