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Holiday B.O. gobbles up big bucks

Hosannas are ringing through the film industry today. And the jingle of coins is providing the percussion.

It was clearly the biggest Thanksgiving weekend ever, led by the whopping $ 40 million collected by 20th Century Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” on 2 ,231 screens from Wednesday through Sunday and the equally impressive $ 25 million amassed by Buena Vista’s animated “Aladdin” over the same period in just 1,131 houses.

Warner Bros.’ debuting “The Bodyguard” had a monstrous $ 23million five-day total, while holdovers Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and WB’s “Malcolm X”November U.S. film B.O. surges to a new all-time peak of $ 356.5 million. Story, page 33.

held high against the competition.

“I can’t remember when there was absolutely nothing bad to report for a weekend,” said Tom Sherak, president of distribution for 20th Century Fox.

Thanksgiving weekend was the biggest by far and perhaps the highest-grossing three-day box office period ever. The leading 10 films in the market will contribute between $ 92 million and $ 94 million for the weekend ($ 93.3 million in June 1989 was the best three-day period in box office history). The five-day holiday total was between $ 125 million and $ 130 million, easily trouncing the $ 108 million in tickets sold over Thanksgiving 1989.

Even more importantly, the lucre was distributed among four studios, each of which had at least a duet (and in the case of Warners, a quartet) of powerhouse performers in the top 10.

The top two films captivated audiences age 8 to 80. Fox’s “Home Alone 2” and Buena Vista’s “Aladdin” accounted for more than 50% of all business done by the top 10 films. And factoring in reduced admissions for children, the kidpix sold a greater number of tickets than the raw numbers indicate.

“Home Alone 2” dropped just a shade from its saturation-level debut, taking in an estimated $ 29 million to $ 30 million on Friday, Saturday and Sunday–about $ 13,000 per screen.

The figures jibe with Sherak’s reports that exit surveys on the sequel are even more buoyant than on the original and that repeat business is already being clocked.

Homing in on $ 100 mil

After 10 days, “Home Alone 2” has packed a potent $ 75 million–the first one took 23 days to get there. The $ 100 million mark should be but a way-station for this one. Industry predictions of a $ 200 million or better final total are right on track.

If “Beauty and the Beast” was a blockbuster, “Aladdin” looks to be an even larger phenomenon, based on its first five days in national release. “Staggering” is the word BV’s distribution head Richard Cook used to describe the performance of “Aladdin,” which broke every previous BV B.O. record. Even taking into account the industry’s tendency toward hyperbole, a predicted $ 19 million to $ 20 million opening weekend for an animated film is a bit of a jaw dropper–almost $ 17,000 a screen.

By comparison, “Beauty” did $ 12.2 million in three days and $ 15.2 million in five. And that film eventually grossed $ 140 million. “Aladdin” spreads to 2, 000 screens on Dec. 18.

“Aladdin” had critics’ and the fun-for-the-whole-family set’s seal of approval. Warners’ “The Bodyguard” was mowed down by scribes and carries an R rating. But it has Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston crooning the nation’s No. 1 single in her screen debut. That was enough fuel in the tank to sell between $ 14.5 million and $ 15.5 million for the weekend on 1,717 screens.

‘Bodyguard’ on the rise

WB distribution prez Barry Reardon said “Bodyguard” was the only major title to show an increase from Friday to Saturday nights, benefiting from strong female attendance and date-night crowds.

Warner’s strategy of moving “Bodyguard” into direct competition with several other strong Thanksgiving titles now appears to have been a wise move. (The film had originally been slated for Christmas.) Even lacking strong word of mouth, “Bodyguard” will generate some nice change. How Costner will hold up against upcoming Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson vehicles will determine “The Bodyguard’s” ultimate take.

Columbia’s “Dracula” sustained another 30%-40% hit from stronger-than-usual new arrivals, taking it down to $ 9.5 to $ 9.8 million on 2,491 screens. The five-day holiday was good for about $ 14 million, bringing Francis Coppola’s lace-and-blood fest up to around $ 70 million in just 17 days. Even at a crawl, $ 100 million seems likely. But as the market becomes more densely populated with strong new titles, “Dracula” appears likely to hemorrhage further.

Rounding out the top five was the WB biopic “Malcolm X,” which compared favorably to its opening weekend with $ 8.5 to $ 9 million for the three days and about $ 11.5 million in five days. On 1,249 screens with two fewer shows than most films, “Malcolm X” is easily the least commercially obvious and most upscale film of the new arrivals, making its bedrock performance to date even more notable. The 12-day total should top $ 26 million.

The holiday was also kind to the bottom five films, each of which have been playing for five weeks or more. Warner’s “Passenger 57” was down to 1,854 screens but stayed aloft with $ 3.7 million to $ 4 million for the weekend and at least $ 5 million for the five days. “Passenger” has sold $ 33 million in tickets to date.

Columbia’s “A River Runs Through It” got a slight boost from the holidays, climbing to $ 3.1 million ($ 4.1 million in five days) on 1,080 screens and better than $ 28 million thus far.

Warner’s long-run actioner “Under Siege” stayed about even with last weekend, grossing an additional $ 2.4 million ($ 3.4 million in five days) for a grand total in excess of $ 72 million.

Fox’s “The Last of the Mohicans” also showed little slippage with $ 1.7 million on 1,178 screens ($ 2.2 million in five days) and $ 68 million to date.

Rounding out the top 10 is “The Mighty Ducks,” a predictable casualty of “Home Alone 2” and “Aladdin.” Still, the low-budget BV comedy managed $ 1.2 million for the weekend and $ 1.5 million for the five days, bringing its total up to more than $ 44 million.

Industry insiders note that grosses for the coming weekend should be off sharply as the pre-Christmas lull hits.

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