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Greatest ‘Story’ ever sold

'Toy 2' takes turkey title with $81 million

It’s a simple formula, really.

You put out a movie that grosses almost $192 million, wait four years, release a sequel and watch it double the original’s stellar opening weekend.

Hmm. Maybe this movie biz isn’t so tough after all. Of course, there’s a catch to this method: It helps a lot if your name is Disney, your producer is Pixar and it happens to be Thanksgiving.

Animated sequel in question, “Toy Story 2,” bowed to a record $81 million over the five-day turkey span, shattering all kinds of B.O. records and giving the Mouse House its sixth straight Thanksgiving win.

Riding an off-the-chart want-to-see factor, toon crushed Disney’s own mark for the holiday, set last year by “A Bug’s Life” with $45.8 million. It enjoyed the fourth-biggest five-day bow in history.

“In this day and age, things don’t usually live up to the hype,” said Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane. “But this one joins ‘Austin Powers 2’ and ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ as sequels that deliver. It’s making everyone happy.”

Even rivals had to cheer the weekend results. ACNielsen EDI estimates the total take for all films at $160 million — a new three-day weekend mark. (Current record is $157.5 million from July 30 to Aug. 1 of this year.)

Three-day span battered last year’s record frame by 20% and spiked 35% over last weekend.

On its victory lap, “Toy” sped past fellow freshman “End of Days” from Universal. Apocalyptic Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer mustered $31 million. It lost some of its potential male aud to holdover “The World Is Not Enough,” MGM’s latest James Bond pic.

“World” fell just 32%, surprising many B.O. pundits. With a cume of $76.3 million, it should make a run at the all-time Bond mark of $125.2 million held by “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

Paramount expects “Sleepy Hollow” to become its fourth $100 million-plus film of 1999. Cume for Tim Burton-helmed eye feast stands at $62.1 million after a $27.4 million five-day trot.

Most execs left the crowing to Disney. “Toy Story 2,” with animation by Pixar and voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Kelsey Grammer, scored highest of any Mouse House film ever studied in exit polls, Viane said.

Drawing auds across all age groups, it saw unusually high numbers of tickets bought per transaction. That shows strong family interest.

Mouse the big cheese

On Friday, pic took in $22.8 million — Disney’s best single B.O. day, topping last year’s $16.1 million Saturday gross of “The Waterboy.”

While triumphing with G-rated material, Disney is also poised to collect foreign grosses on the R-rated “End of Days.” U picked up 40% of upfront costs. Beacon Pictures funded the rest and then sold off foreign rights.

Yet many wonder if the world is enough to allow “Days,” budgeted at $83 million, to recoup its production costs. U distrib head Nikki Rocco noted the star was clearly the film’s main lure, according to exit polls. Auds were 57% male and 55% 25-plus.

“It’s an R-rated movie, so it’s not the traditional Thanksgiving fare,” Rocco conceded. “But we still feel it’s a great weekend.”

U’s optimism was stoked by the scant 15% dip of “The Bone Collector,” which has racked up $53.6 million entering its fourth week.

‘Pokemon’ fades

Speaking of a few weeks ago, remember Pokemon? Though clearly a profit bonanza for Warner Bros., “Pokemon: The First Movie” has faltered since its whopping Veterans Day frame. It dropped another 43% and posted a $9.1 million Thanksgiving period, boosting cume to $77.8 million.

Warners, less than two weeks from the bow of “The Green Mile,” is also fostering the limited “Liberty Heights.” Barry Levinson-lensed period pic piled up $175,192 over five days on just six screens, for a gaudy average of $29,100.

That wasn’t tops among limited releases, though. Sony Classics’ “All About My Mother” scored $33,380 on each of seven screens, bringing cume to $348,365. Pedro Almodovar dramedy will widen out around Christmas.

Elsewhere on the small-scale slate, Fine Line’s “Tumbleweeds” totaled $56,778 over five days, or $11,356 at each of five sites. Miramax’s Jane Austen update “Mansfield Park” took in $430,000 on 30 screens, for an average of $14,335.

Ang Lee-helmed pic “Ride With the Devil” opened to $93,719 in five days on 11 screens. Civil War drama’s debut was fairly grey, but USA Films isn’t blue. Its “Being John Malkovich” gained 17% in week five to garner $2.2 million.

Limited stalwarts “The Straight Story,” from Disney, and “Boys Don’t Cry,” from Fox Searchlight, enjoyed a holiday spike.

“Straight” gate rose 18% to $365,000 over the three-day weekend, its seventh. Cume for David Lynch crop duster is $3.1 million. “Boys” held steady with $157,000 in three days, pushing cume to $2 million. Pic is beginning its eighth week.

On the big board, Fox also saw “Anywhere But Here” hold well, losing just 10% and collecting $3 million.

Studio also held sneaks for “Anna and the King” on Saturday. Data shows widespread sellouts, with auds averaging 30-40 years old at the core and 55% female, said distrib chief Tom Sherak.

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