‘Scream 2’ showcases demo power

Hollywood was still reeling Monday over the terrifying $39.2 million opening of Miramax/Dimension’s “Scream 2,” which exceeded most industry expectations by more than 35%.

Most observers, including some Miramax execs, figured the film would top out at $25 million for the three-day period.

As expected, the audience for the R-rated sequel skewed heavily toward younger crowds, with about 75% of viewers under age 25 and virtually no one over 35 in attendance.

Horror pics have always been a favorite with teens, but unlike traditional slasher fare, the recent crop of chillers — including the original “Scream” and Sony’s recent “I Know What You Did Last Summer” — have attracted more women than men.

“Horror film audiences used to be heavily male,” said Mark Gill, president of Miramax L.A. “If they could drag their girlfriends along you were lucky.”

On the other hand, exit polls showed auds for “Scream 2” averaged 55% female and 45% male, according to Gill.

Gotta have it

“Humor plays a big part in it, because it breaks up the tension,” he added. “Also, it plays closer to a thriller than a gore-fest. Most of the terror is suspense. It also helps that it has a young sexy cast of women they want to be and guys they want to date.”

Gill predicted “Scream 2’s” audiences would continue to fall into pretty much the same demographic. “My mother is not likely to go anytime soon, but so what.”

“Scream 2” may now give “Tomorrow Never Dies” and even Paramount’s “Titanic” a run for their money in the coming weekend. Pre-opening market research so far shows only moderate interest in the Bond film, and “Titanic” could be hampered by its three-hour-plus running time.

The “Scream 2” monster debut led the top 60 films to a hearty $84.1 million weekend total at the box office. Business was up 21% compared with the equivalent frame last year when “Jerry Maguire” kicked off to $17.1 million, “Mars Attacks!” landed $9.4 million and “The Preacher’s Wife” drummed up $7.6 million.

The strong business confirms that the second weekend in December, once considered part of the wasteland between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the busy Christmas season, is now a viable launching pad in its own right.

Just three years ago, ticket sales for the comparable weekend totaled a modest $53 million. In 1995 the number rose to almost $60 million and last year it hit $66.4 million.

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