U gets last laugh

Studio gives thanks to 'Grinch' for big November B.O.

In 1998, when Universal was releasing “Babe: Pig in the City,” “Meet Joe Black,” and “Psycho,” executives may have said to themselves, “Someday we’ll look back on all this and laugh.”

Well, this November was their month to laugh.

Not only did the studio grab its second consecutive monthly win with $202 million, it also closed to within $57 million of Disney for the annual box office lead. Thank you, Mr. Grinch.

With Veterans Day and Thanksgiving often providing a boost, studios usually give thanks to November as an oasis of boffo B.O. after the doldrums of fall. The decade’s average October-November increase is 37%. Not only was last month’s rally of $723 million the highest November on record, the period represented a 68% jump from October and 10% from the 1999 edition.

Kid pics were once again the month’s staple. “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie,” and “102 Dalmatians” generated one-third of the month’s gold.

December could be a different story for Universal, however. While the studio is drawing close to Disney’s $965 million tally, it faces a fierce battle from the Mouse House’s “The Emperor’s New Groove,” bowing Dec. 15. The question remains whether “The Grinch” will maintain his kleptomaniacal tendencies at the box office or if Universal’s “Family Man” will touch the masses by New Year’s weekend.

Universal’s take last month was up 90% from the previous period in 1999 and a far cry from its November 1998 take of $50 million.

Besides “The Grinch” ranking as the month’s No. 1 pic with $141 million, “Charlie’s Angels” put Sony in second place at $136 million with a monthly total of $110 million.

Nos. 3 through 10: Disney’s “Unbreakable,” $49.2 million; U’s “Meet the Parents,” $48.8 million; Paramount’s “Rugrats in Paris,” $48.4 million; Fox’s “Men of Honor,” $35 million; New Line’s “Little Nicky,” $34 million; DreamWorks’ “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” $29 million; Disney’s “102 Dalmatians,” $27 million; and Sony’s “The 6th Day,” $26 million.