Disney sets December mark with $28 million weekend

When they look back at the 20th century, box-office historians will likely hold up this past weekend as a textbook example of Disney’s family holiday mojo.

Mouse House animated pic “Toy Story 2″ saw B.O. receipts fall 51%, yet its estimated $28.3 million take roughly equaled the combined gross of the next three challengers. Plus, toon’s cume is already $117.3 million, having hit $100 million in just 11 days.

On the heels of a historic Thanksgiving frame, “Toy” earned a spot in the December record book.

Pic had the best gross by any pic in the month’s first frame, beating original “Toy Story,” which did $20.2 million in its sophomore weekend in 1995. It’s the No. 4 December weekend ever, behind “Scream 2″ and two outings by “Titanic.”

Topping ‘Rocky’

Matching the $312.9 million cume of “The Lion King” won’t be easy with tykes in school, but original “Toy Story” total of $191.8 million is clearly vulnerable.

James Bond’s 19th sortie, “The World Is Not Enough,” dropped 55% but seems to have plenty of bullets left. Estimate of $10.6 million brings cume of MGM pic to $90.4 million.

Universal’s “End of Days” followed with $9.7 million and Paramount’s “Sleepy Hollow” galloped along in fourth place with $9 million.

Though even armchair B.O. sleuths could have sussed out wide weekend winners with a blindfold on, limited releases proved fairly eye-opening. After all, total B.O. of $81 million fell 50% from last weekend’s — a typical post-Thanksgiving swoon. In such a climate, only debuts came in the five- and six-figure range.

Allen’s ‘Sweet’

Sony Pictures Classics led all small-scale bows with Woody Allen pic “Sweet and Lowdown.” Thirtieth helming job by hyphenate, who turned 64 last week, fetched $101,884 on three Gotham screens.

Art-house arm didn’t furnish an estimate for Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother,” but execs reported it’s holding well at seven North American sites. Cume entering weekend was $505,211.

Sony’s “The End of the Affair” also pierced the after-turkey gloom with $203,000 in seven houses, for a per-screen average of $29,000.

“Liberty Heights” dipped 31% for Warner Bros., yielding $68,000 from six screens.

‘Tis also the season for Oscar qualifying runs.

Miramax put Jane Campion-helmed “Holy Smoke” in one venue in L.A. and one in Gotham, garnering an estimated $32,000.

USA Films tried same approach with “Agnes Brown,” but reaped just $5,857.

With no wide debuts, slate featured flotsam and jetsam typical of the interholiday period. To wit, Sony’s “Virtual Sexuality,” which virtually disappeared. It took in $446 at each of 101 sites, for an estimated weekend take of $45,000.

‘Phantom’ returns

Unheralded sci-fi tale called “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” put $1.2 million in Fox’s Jar Jar — on paper, anyway. Though it counts toward pic’s $429 million cume, 100% of gate will go to charities picked by local exhibs. One-week charity run ends Thursday.

With “Toy Story 2″ cemented in the top spot, rivals focused on their own game plans.

MGM distrib chief Larry Gleason said “World” is shaping up as the biggest domestic Bond pic ever. It’s so far about $10 million ahead of studio projections, he added, with $140 million a likely final tally. Top U.S. Bond is “Tomorrow Never Dies” at $125.2 million.

As it kept the No. 2 spot Stateside, pic also had biggest openings of any 1999 releases in France and Spain. Worldwide target of $400 million — also a new record — is in Lion’s reach.

MGM execs are too busy counting up receipts to fret over fair-to-poor reviews or sniping about the state of the Bond franchise.

“Everybody has an opinion about what Bond should be or how he should change,” Gleason said. “But the public keeps voting for it.”

‘End’ indeed

U likely wishes it could make it up in foreign on “End of Days,” but Disney holds overseas rights. Mired in third place, R-rated apocalyptic pic faces bleak holiday prospects. Arnold Schwarzenegger-vs.-Lucifer tilt launched day-and-date in 15 global territories, topping B.O. charts in 14.

Paramount still sees “Sleepy Hollow” as its fourth $100-million effort of the year. Cume is $74.3 million.

After top four films, chart shows havoc wreaked by historically weak frame. Titles were all the same as last week, but numbers went on Atkins diet.

It’s not quite “game over” for “Pokemon: The First Movie,” but 69% drop into sixth place hurts chances at $100 million. Cume is $80.6 million. Released Nov. 10, 63% of pic’s cume came in first five days.

“Being John Malkovich” suffered its worst week-to-week jolt in five weeks of release, though 33% dip was the smallest of any wide pic. At 624 sites, comedy can’t go much wider due to brainy content, so USA will wait and hope for awards season.

B.O. watchers are eyeing Friday, when release scene steps out in sequined style. Warners ushers in Oscar hopeful “The Green Mile” on 2,700-plus screens. Limited bows await Disney’s “Cradle Will Rock,” MGM’s “Miss Julie” and Miramax’s “The Cider House Rules.”

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