‘Kombat’ fights off B.O. rivals

New Line’s “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” still led the pack when final figures were released Monday. However, as with most of the box office leaders, Sunday estimates overstated the vibrancy of the new releases. “Annihilation’s” opening weekend totaled $16.8 million and a sturdy $7,800 theater average.

Fox’s animated “Anastasia” arrived with $14.1 million and a very respectable $5,700 average. So much has been made of Disney’s efforts to protect its long-standing domination in the toon world, and admittedly some of Fox’s gross was siphoned off by the reissue of “The Little Mermaid,” but there’s no denying the studio’s first animated effort debuted with strength and will likely be at least a modest success.

Tracking off

Both “Annihilation” and “Anastasia” opened better than industry tracking had predicted. Raw data reports suggested Paramount’s “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker” and the second weekend of “The Jackal” would finish on top for the frame. One explanation for the discrepency between predictions and reality is the resistance within the film biz to modify standard awareness studies to better reflect teen and younger interest. After all, late teens and early 20s remain the largest viewing demographic and the most avid moviegoers.

The MPAA’s Jack Valenti has noted that over 40s have been the fastest growing film sector in the past five years; the older demo has expanded from 9% to 17%. But that’s still a niche faction in the total picture, where the younger group has consistently remained about 35% of the audience.

The older appeal of “The Rainmaker” and Warner Bros.’ adaptation of the bestseller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” wasn’t sufficient to overshadow the week’s other debutants.

Seasonal clearinghouse

The past weekend looked pretty much like a seasonal clearinghouse, with holdover titles sputtering out of commercial steam just in time for the onslaught of Thanksgiving releases. There were also a handful of movies prepping for the holidays. The best of the bunch was Miramax’s adaptation of Henry James’ “The Wings of the Dove,” which added 182 screens and notched $1.3 million. Upbeat reviews have provided the pic with a luster of prestige that should bode well for commercial crossover.

“Wings” is entering the awards fray on the heels of “L.A. Confidential” and “Boogie Nights.” The films share a highbrow appeal that caps their B.O. potential at $40 million. That’s the current glass ceiling hit by critical faves of past years such as “Quiz Show,” “Shine” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” The few that have defied that rule have won lots of Oscars.

The week’s sole new specialized entry was Fine Line’s “The Sweet Hereafter,” a multiple award winner from Cannes. The downbeat tale from Canuck Atom Egoyan got excellent notices and averaged almost $15,000 from five U.S. engagements, but needs those year-end critical kudos to expand its reach.

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