Island fever fuels yule B.O.

'Cast Away' washes ashore with $40 mil

This article was corrected on Dec. 26, 2000.

Twentieth Century Fox tossed “Cast Away” into a crowded holiday marketplace and the Tom Hanks starrer netted a prize $40.5 million for the four-day Christmas weekend.

Meanwhile, Sony’s budding commercial crossover “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” kicked its way into a $4 million weekend in only 143 locations.

It’s been five years since the Yuletide holiday fell on a Monday, giving the film industry a four-day B.O. weekend, but desert-isle drama “Cast Away” found auds much thirstier than in 1995, when “Waiting to Exhale” took that year’s Christmas weekend top spot with just over $14 million.

“It shows how much the marketplace has changed since 1995,” observed Fox distribution prexy Bruce Snyder of the “Cast Away” bow. “We would have been happy with $10 million less — $30 million would have thrilled us. It’s exceeded all expectations of how much business a picture can do on a Christmas weekend.”

While the Robert Zemeckis-helmed pic expanded horizons for Christmas openings in general, it did almost twice as much B.O. as this year’s No. 2 pic, “What Women Want?” But Paramount execs expressed satisfaction with the performance of the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt starrer in its second week of release.

” ‘Cast Away’ took such a lot of business out of the market, there wasn’t a lot left over for anything else,” Paramount Motion Picture Group vice chairman Rob Friedman said. “So, we’re pleased.”

The four-day “Cast Away” perf represents a career-best bow for Hanks, whose previous high came in 1998 with a three-day opening for “Saving Private Ryan.”

Universal’s “The Family Man” saw $15.2 million in four-day B.O. for this weekend’s third-best perf. U had bumped pic, toplined by Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni, one week from its original positioning to avoid what turned out to be a $34 million debut for “What Women Want.”

“I’m very pleased,” U distrib head Nikki Rocco said. She added that pic is expected to continue to play well in subsequent weeks. “Adult films usually need to get past Christmas to fare well,” Rocco offered.

The “Family Man” numbers may not be enought to help U in its showdown with Disney for the 12-month B.O. crown. The Mouse House continues to hold the lead by a slim $20 million headed into the year’s final weekend.

‘Grinch’ more congenial

U’s “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was still going strong in its sixth weekend and edged out the other wide four-day bow — Warner Bros.’ “Miss Congeniality” — for the No. 4 spot. The green, hairy Jim Carrey-toplined “Grinch” stole $15 million to the Sandra Bullock starrer’s $13.8 million.

“Miss Congeniality” had taken the No. 3 position in Friday B.O. rankings, playing particularly well with young females who commonly frequent theaters earlier in the weekend. But Warners distrib boss Dan Fellman said the four-day numbers were also plenty congenial.

“I think we have a $100 million movie,” Fellman predicted.

Meanwhile, with pics including Disney’s “Unbreakable” and “102 Dalmatians” and Warners’ “Proof of Life” falling from the top 10, Sony’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” soared into the weekend’s tenth position with a $4 million weekend from only 143 locations — a per screen average of $28,150.

“I’m overjoyed,” Sony Classics co-prexy Michael Barker said. “It’s hitting every demographic.”

Sales veep Tom Prassis added, “This just continues what we have felt all along — that the film is breaking out in commercial arenas.”

Specialties shine

Like several other specialty pics, “Crouching Tiger” now eyes a major expansion planned for the Martin Luther King holiday on Jan. 12.

Sony Classics’ Gillian Anderson starrer “The House of Mirth” bowed this weekend with $61,492 on seven screens over four days for a healthy $8,784 per-engagement average, while Sony’s Sean Connery-toplined “Finding Forrester” managed $51,178 in three days for an even more lustrous $17,059 average.

Fine Line’s ensemble comedy “State and Main” bowed on 72 screens in 15 markets — an unusually wide Christmas debut for a specialty pic –and grossed $92,137 over four days for a per-engagement average of $8,224. Paramount Classics’ supernatural suspenser “The Gift,” starring Cate Blanchett, took in $12,000 in one L.A. location.

Miramax confection

Miramax’s “Chocolat,” starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, whipped up $1.3 million as its expansion reached 255 screens and a 5,100 per-engagement average. And Disney’s “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” from the Coen brothers saw a whopping $200,000 in estimated four-day B.O. in five New York and L.A. locations one week before expanding to 75 theaters in 13 markets.

The boffo Christmas holiday weekend keeps Hollywood on track to beat last year’s total industrywide B.O. Year-to-date totals are about $45 million ahead of 1999’s B.O. at $7.14 billion.