U's 'Grinch' puts the pinch on Disney's duo

The Mouse House got “Grinch”-ed.

Universal/Imagine’s “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” kept Disney out of the top box office spot over the long Thanksgiving weekend for the first time in seven years, as the hairy, green phenom’s $73.8 million over five days powered Hollywood to a record B.O. feast.

Disney’s supernatural thriller “Unbreakable” turned in a creditable perf. Its $47.2 million estimated gross represents the No. 3 five-day B.O. of all time, behind last year’s “Toy Story 2″ from Disney/Pixar ($80.1 million) and “Grinch.”

Another Mouse House opener, animated sequel “102 Dalmatians,” took third place among this year’s Thanksgiving weekend pics, but at $26.8 million its perf pales next to original’s $45 million. “101 Dalmatians” bowed over 1996 Turkey Day and ranks as the No. 5 five-day perf of all time.

B.O. handicappers count the “Grinch” numbers as particularly impressive, as they were turned in during the Jim Carrey starrer’s second weekend. Pic bowed with a $55.8 million opening weekend.

“When the final figures are in, it’s going to be one of the biggest grossing films of all time,” Universal distribution prexy Nikki Rocco said. “I don’t know exactly what kind of legs it will have, but there’s no doubt this film’s going to be around for the rest of the holiday period into the new year.”

Rocco predicted “Grinch,” produced and directed by Imagine co-toppers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, respectively, will go on to impressive success in other distribution formats and thus prove a perennial holiday moneymaker for the studio.

“(Grazer and Howard) have delivered us an incredible early Christmas present, and we couldn’t be more grateful,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hollywood had reason for a collective good feeling over the Thanksgiving B.O., which helped the industry’s year-to-date tally creep ahead of 1999 for the first time since the lackluster summer. The total year-to-date estimated B.O. through Sunday of $6.59 billion was about $18 million ahead of the figure for the same time last year.

This year’s Thanksgiving B.O. bested all previous marks in both three- and five-day comparisons for the holiday weekend, and Friday was the best Friday on record. The only four-day period to do more B.O. was over Memorial Day, when Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 2″ ruled the roost.

“It was a tidal wave of attendance,” observed Tom Borys, prexy of B.O. analysis firm ACNielsen EDI. “I don’t think anybody saw it coming. Exhibition should be happy, as they’ve been complaining that there have been no good films. So, they should stop grousing for a while.”

Disney distrib prexy Chuck Viane, while acknowledging the studio was gunning for No. 1, still took pleasure in its pics’ perfs and even more so in Hollywood’s collectively boffo B.O.

“It was a remarkable weekend,” Viane said. “To think the ‘Grinch’ could carry us as an industry to the kind of numbers we have is something.”

As for “Unbreakable” and “Dalmatians,” he said the studio saw the films as targeting distinctly different audiences from each other.

“We did some counter-programming and attracted the adults,” Viane said.

“Unbreakable,” which reunited pic topper Bruce Willis and helmer M. Night Shyamalan following their megahit teaming on “The Sixth Sense,” opened to mixed reviews and predictions that the comparison to previous pic would prove unfortunate. But even the three-day numbers for “Unbreakable,” at an estimated $31.5 million through Sunday, bested the $26.7 million bow for “The Sixth Sense” in August 1999. Matching previous pic’s total domestc gross of $293.5 million may prove tougher.

Elsewhere, Paramount saw animated sequel “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie” grab fourth place in its second weekend with a five-day gross of $22.8 million. Execs believe pic is on track for another $100 million domestic gross like the original.

Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels” was one rung lower in its fourth week with $14 million over five days. “Angels” joined the $100 million club on Friday and had an estimated cume through Sunday of $109.2 million, amid signs pic’s overseas bow was going great as well.

Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake also expects good international B.O. next month for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The 6th Day” after another disappointing weekend at U.S. theaters. Pic did $10.2 million over five days in its second week and is on track for a total domestic gross of $45 million-$50 million, Blake estimated.

Such a U.S. gross would put it among Schwarzenegger’s biggest misfires; even the much-abused “Last Action Hero” took in $50 million in domestic gross.

Miramax took satisfaction that its “Bounce” held some second-week buoyancy with the date crowd. Toplined by Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck, pic managed $11 million over five days.

“I think ‘Grinch’ and ‘Unbreakable’ vacuumed up an awful lot of business,” Miramax marketing veep David Kaminow said. “But we’re happy.”

The No. 1 perf by “Grinch” marked the first time since 1993 that a studio other than Disney ruled the Turkey Day roost. In that year, 20th Century Fox’s Robin Williams laugher “Mrs. Doubtfire” topped B.O. tallies.

Disney opened films at No. 1 for five consecutive Thanksgiving weekends through last year, after taking the top B.O. spot in 1994 with “The Santa Clause” in the Tim Allen laugher’s third week of release.

Disney’s twin offerings this year — the weekend’s only openings — managed together to just outdistance B.O. for the “Grinch,” but U added another $9 million to the five-day festivities with smash laugher “Meet the Parents” and $2.6 million with platformed “Billy Elliot.”

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