Monkey biz squeaks past mane attraction

On a crowded and confusing holiday weekend, “King Kong” came out a nose ahead of “Narnia.”

The two fantasy tales outpaced all the newcomers, with Sony’s much-hyped “Fun With Dick and Jane” scoring an OK $23.5 million for four days, while Fox’s debuting “Cheaper by the Dozen 2″ took $14.8 million.

Sony is crossing its fingers for both “Dick and Jane” and “Memoirs of a Geisha,” which after two strong weeks in a limited run widened to 1,547 screens with a so-so $10.2 million for four days.

As for other weekend openers, Warner is expecting an iffy $7.5 million for “Rumor Has It” in 2,815 locations, while two films with more modest expectations did well: Fox Searchlight’s “The Ringer” with $8.4 million over four days and Dimension’s “Wolf Creek” with $5.9 million. Universal’s “The Producers” failed to duplicate its Broadway success, singing to a flat $3.4 million.

When final tallies are in today, it’s possible that “Narnia” could outwrestle “Kong” for top spot. Aside from those two films, few wide-playing pics inspired unbridled Christmas cheer — but few were glum, because the weekend results are too inconclusive. With a dozen films opening or going wide Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, as well as the strong holdovers, exhibs called it one of the toughest-to-read frames they’ve ever seen.

In a crazy-making box office year, exhibs and distribs would like a little clarity for the year-end films, but this past weekend has too many variables to predict long-term results.

For example, Sony’s Jim Carrey vehicle “Fun With Dick and Jane” fell far short of the $68 million bow of the actor’s “Bruce Almighty” in May 2003. But the new pic’s tally far exceeds the $15.7 million four-day bow of Carrey’s “Dumb and Dumber,” which led the box office for the holiday weekend in 1994, when Christmas also fell on a Sunday. That New Line comedy went on to gross an impressive $127.2 million domestically.

Christmas on a Sunday makes for the worst possible configuration for exhibitors — partly because filmgoing on Saturday (Christmas Eve) is virtually dead.

The holidays also make three-day comparisons with last week not particularly meaningful. But, for the record, Friday-Monday grosses were up 1% from 2004, when Christmas fell on a Saturday. Domestic B.O. for the year is still down 5%.

Despite all the confusion, the weekend made one thing clear: Universal’s and Disney/Walden’s tentpoles are dominating the holidays.

U’s “King Kong” took in $31.4 million over four days and $21.3 million for the weekend, giving it a three-day average of $5,956 at 3,576 plays.

Disney and Walden’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” placed a close No. 2 with $30.1 million over four days and $20.4 million for three. Average over three days was $5,289 at 3,853 theaters.

The C.S. Lewis adaptation fell just 36% over three days, while “Kong” dropped 58%, with both numbers larger than would be typical.

Pics were virtually even Friday and Saturday. But with fewer family-friendly matinees, “Kong” had the stronger Christmas Day, taking $8.7 million compared with “Narnia’s” $7.3 million. U projected a slightly stronger $10.1 million Monday for “Kong,” while Disney was looking for $9.7 million out of “Narnia.”

“Narnia” has cumed $163.5 million after three frames, while “Kong” has taken $118.7 million at the end of its second.

Disney and Walden, along with other studios with family-geared pics, are looking forward to this week, in which most kids are out of school. Meanwhile, U has to hope “Kong” shows some strength among families and proves next weekend it has the kind of legs that can take it to well over $200 million.

“I think everybody is thrilled to have this kind of a week in front of us,” Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane said. “Every portion of the audience is accessible.”

Both the Mouse House and Sony went into the holidays hoping their last two big-budget pics of 2005 would make up for an otherwise weak year. That strategy has worked for Disney, with “Narnia” looking very strong and “Chicken Little” cuming a solid $130 million.

Things are more of a question mark for Sony, however. “Dick and Jane” grossed $23.5 million over four days and $14.5 million for three. Per-play take was $4,744 over three days at 3,056 locations. Since its Wednesday opening, pic has grossed a total of $31.1 million.

Aud included a broad mix of adults drawn by the corporate-layoffs theme and younger Carrey fans, with 51% male and 51% under 25.

Meanwhile, “Memoirs of a Geisha,” adaptation of the bestselling book, made $10.2 million over the full frame and $6.7 million in three days. Playing only 1,547 locations, though, it saw a decent $4,396 average. Following two weeks in limited release, cume is now $13.3 million.

“Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” the other Wednesday opener, drew $14.8 million over the full frame and $9.4 million for the weekend. Average over three days was $2,945 at 3,175 playdates. Cume is $20.6 million, compared with a $27.6 million opening sesh for original “Dozen” on Christmas weekend two years ago.

Fox’s “The Family Stone” has found a successful niche among women. Pic placed No. 5 in its second frame, grossing $10.9 million in four days and $6.7 million in three. Average was $2,723 in 2,469 plays; cume is $30.1 million.

Fox Searchlight teen comedy “The Ringer” posted a decent $8.4 million over four days and $5.3 million in three. Johnny Knoxville starrer averaged $2,884 per play at 1,829 theaters.

Two-day estimates are difficult for Sunday’s three wide openers — “Rumor Has It,” “Wolf Creek” and “The Producers” — since they’re based on just one night of grosses.

Warner is expecting a weak $7.5 million for “Rumor Has It” in 2,815 locations. Studio is hoping for wide appeal, with a skew toward women, for the Jennifer Aniston-Kevin Costner starrer as the week goes on.

Dimension can be happier with the bow for its low-budget horror pic “Wolf Creek,” its first release since moving to the Weinstein Co., which scared up $5.9 million at 1,749 playdates.

Indie picked “Wolf Creek” up at Sundance last year for $3.5 million.

“This wasn’t a movie designed to make $50 million,” Dimension topper Bob Weinstein said. “We’ll make a $5 million profit on this and then on to the next one.”

“The Producers” is looking nothing like the smash hit onscreen that it is on Broadway. Going wide to a conservative 975 theaters Sunday after nine solid days at six playdates, pic grossed $3.4 million for the frame and $1.6 million over three days, with all but $50,000 of that coming Sunday.

U’s poorly reviewed tuner adaptation looks set for a weak run unless it can pick up steam in the next week.

WB’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” brought its cume to $262.4 million over the frame, making it the second biggest “Potter” pic yet behind only original “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which grossed $317.6 million domestic.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more