Seasonal split

Kid pix, adult fare divide the holiday B.O.

The holiday box office race saw kids and adults tugging different ends of the same drumstick, as younger-skewing pics battled a slew of films aimed squarely at parents. The irony: teen pic “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” wound up as the season’s sleeper.

Though wide runs are just beginning on some grown-up fare, it appears the two demos wound up roughly even for the Nov. 19-Jan. 2 period.

“Toy Story 2” and “Stuart Little” topped the charts in five of the seven weekends. But “The World Is Not Enough,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “The Green Mile,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Any Given Sunday” all found adult auds.

The start of the 2000 race this weekend, plus the recent widening of some holiday releases, offers a chance to look back at what proved a fairly ho-hum holiday span. The frame saw overall business rising 6% to a record $1.1 billion. Bear in mind, though, that the number of releases rose 14% to 58 from 51 in 1998.

Grosses off

Also consider that the last 10 days of 1999 yielded total grosses of $350 million, off 13% from $401 million over the same 10 days in 1998 and ’97. Part of the blame goes to Christmas and New Year’s falling on Saturday, a schedule that wiped out the usual strong gate on Friday.

“It was a bifurcated market,” said Jack Foley, distrib head at USA Films. “There were successes among kid films and successes among adult films. Both groups were fairly well-defined.”

One notable pic opted to aggressively split the middle and go after teens. Disney’s “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” startled showbiz by grossing $46.5 million over the holidays and $55.1 million to date.

Miramax employed a similar strategy with the first two “Scream” pics, which posted big December weekends on the way to $100 million cumes.

Tapping teen market

But the last major studio efforts to successfully tap the teen market during the holidays were New Line’s “Dumb and Dumber” and Paramount’s “Beavis & Butt-head Do America.” “Dumb” pulled in $16.4 million for New Line in mid-December 1994, and Par’s “Beavis” bowed to $20.1 million just before Christmas 1996.

“We made a film for a particular time and aimed it at that slot,” Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane said of “Deuce.” “We figured, whatever we do, let’s not put in another serious-minded adult film because there were plenty of those.”

The holiday casualties — chiefly Fox’s “Anna and the King” and Universal’s “Man on the Moon” — had little in common besides the aura of doom.

U still hopes to salvage some award noms, particularly an Oscar nod for Jim Carrey, who endured the worst B.O. result of his career. (“Moon’s” cume to date is $31 million.) U distrib chief Nikki Rocco said the film faced a crowded marketplace and failed to find a core aud.

“There were a lot of choices out there,” she said.

“Anna,” Fox’s holiday centerpiece, has managed just $32 million, barely one-third of its reported production budget, despite the presence of star Jodie Foster.

Though it held plenty of appeal on paper for mature female auds, pic never clicked despite heavy marketing. Most distribs chalk that up to the film’s old-fashioned approach and the fact it retold the story of “The King and I” without the music.

Limited pics also had checkered results, with most falling victim to the year-end rush of Oscar-qualifiers. Miramax’s “The Cider House Rules” somehow clawed its way out of the morass, parlaying crix’s bouquets and award talk into a $9 million total so far.

New Line’s “Magnolia” enjoyed a stellar limited run and has made about $8 million in close to four weeks. Its earning the mini-major its first bona fide Oscar buzz.

U’s “The Hurricane” appears to be on an even steeper curve than “Magnolia.” With $3.2 million in hand after two limited weeks, it goes into almost 1,500 theaters today.

Many smaller-scale efforts sneaked in one-week Oscar qualifying runs, but that time-worn strategy seems more vulnerable than ever.

Witness “Topsy-Turvy,” USA’s Mike Leigh-helmed Gilbert and Sullivan tale that may be a factor in the Oscar race after topping several year-end polls.

Though a limited-run hit in New York, pic managed just $9,500 in a required L.A. stint.

“If you’re going to qualify something, people are going to look at the grosses and it’s a bad indicator,” USA’s Foley said. “It’s a dangerous thing. Producers may be looking at awards, but exhibitors look at grosses.”

Disney’s “Toy Story 2” racked up $208.8 million to dominate the holiday span (it’s now up to $220.7 million). Then came Sony’s “Stuart Little,” which has won three of its four weekends on the way to a $96.7 million cume to date.

On the other end of the demographic spectrum, decidedly non-family efforts such as “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” a Paramount-Miramax co-production, and Warner Bros.’ “The Green Mile” closed the frame with strong results.

‘Ripley’ rocks

“Ripley” has pulled in $56.1 million, which already exceeds some early forecasts by distrib vets who figured it would be too dark or too long to catch on with big auds. Par projects a final number of about $80 million, but Golden Globes noms and potential Oscar noms could send cume significantly higher.

“The Green Mile” has shrugged off early naysayers and a lack of awards momentum to reach $93.4 million. Warners’ Dan Fellman sees a final tally of around $130 million.Fellow adult pics “The World Is Not Enough” from MGM and “Sleepy Hollow” from Par joined “Toy 2” as hits launched around Thanksgiving. “World” is within $4 million of becoming the highest-grossing James Bond pic ever, with $121.3 million through Wednesday.

Bow boom

After last weekend’s siesta without any new wide releases, the slate cranks up this weekend with the bows of New Line’s “Next Friday” (which opened Wednesday), MGM’s “Supernova” and Warner Bros.’ “My Dog Skip.” Expansions take effect for Universal’s “The Hurricane” and Sony’s “Girl, Interrupted.”

Plus, the biz is back in the holiday spirit, as Monday is Martin Luther King Day.

Since becoming a federal holiday about a decade ago, the date has gained potency as a film launch pad. Par’s “Varsity Blues” bowed with $17.5 million last MLK weekend. In 1997, “Beverly Hills Ninja” karate-chopped all rivals with $12.2 million.

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