Horror pic's holiday feast $35 mil; receipts up 24% for year

“Hannibal” grabbed greedy second helpings at the head of the box office chow line over the long Presidents Day weekend with a whopping $35.5 million in estimated four-day grosses.

Horror-thriller’s perf in its sophomore frame brought the “Silence of the Lambs” sequel’s domestic cume to a boffo $109.4 million in just 11 days.

Estimated grosses this Presidents Day weekend totaled $147 million, or 9% ahead of last year. (Last Presidents Day weekend, Warners mob laffer “The Whole Nine Yards” led three openers in double-digits with $15.9 million in four-day grosses.)

In year-to-date totals, 2001 is 24% ahead of last year with $1.1 billion in total receipts, according to data from box officer tracker ACNielsen EDI.

EDI veep Dan Marks said the year’s strong start has been fueled by a convergence of elements: good perfs by holiday pics including “Cast Away,” big bows by “Hannibal” and other wide releases and broader expansions for specialty pics including “Crouching Tiger” after Oscar-nom boosts.

“We’re just rolling along,” Marks breezed.

A co-production between MGM and Universal, “Hannibal” is being dished up domestically by MGM, with U handling foreign distribution. Gore-fest saw good foreign bows in key markets this weekend.

“It’s not just a big-city picture; it’s also playing well in the smaller towns,” MGM distrib prexy Larry Gleason said. “What we’re looking at now is some sort of campaign to encourage second-time attendance.”

One pitch being considered: “This time, try to keep your eyes open the whole time.”

Execs rated the beefy 49% falloff in three-day receipts from pic’s opening weekend unsurprising as drop came in genre known for sharp declines and follows bow of record proportions.

Elsewhere, Paramount’s heavenly themed Chris Rock starrer, “Down to Earth,” opened to an angelic $20.1 million in estimated four-day grosses.

“This says Chris Rock is a big movie star and can carry a movie by himself,” Paramount distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen suggested.

Disney’s animated feature “Recess: School’s Out” took in an estimated $13.1 million through the Prexy Day holiday. “Recess” was adapted by studio’s TV-animation unit from an ABC Saturday morning series for about $10 million.

The stretched frame’s third wide bow, Warner Bros.’ “Sweet November” romancer with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron, grossed an estimated $11.7 million.

Warners’ distrib boss Dan Fellman said opening was “on target” with expectations for the Bel-Air Pictures co-production, which drew auds 77% female.

Those perfs, plus notable expansions including Sony Classics’ for martial arts fantasy “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Miramax’s for adult fairy tale “Chocolat,” powered the industry to further gains in year-to-year comparisons.

Disney’s farcical “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?” grossed $3.4 million over four days to push cume to a record $25.4 million for the producing-directing Coen brothers. Their previous high was 1996′s “Fargo,” a $24.5 million domestic grosser.

“Having George Clooney in the movie made it a little more commercial,” Disney distrib prexy Chuck Viane said.

“O, Brother” should gross $33 million-$35 million domestically, Viane estimated. A co-production with foreign distributor Universal, pic will likely need to cross $30 million domestically to make it profitable for Disney.

Meanwhile, Sony’s “Saving Silverman” was one of the weekend’s only downbeat perfs, with a 43% drop to $5 million and 10th place in its second week. But low production costs — at an estimated $22 million — could be a “Saving” grace, as execs still hope laffer will produce $22 million-$25 million domestically.

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