Another happy meal for Hannibal

U pic devours $37 mil third course with 'Red Dragon'

Universal’s “Red Dragon” gorged itself at the weekend box office with an October-record $37.5 million in estimated opening grosses.

But latest Hannibal Lecter suspenser hardly cannibalized the competish, as Disney laffer “Sweet Home Alabama” dropped a modest 39% to $21.6 million in second place over its soph sesh. And DreamWorks’ Jackie Chan starrer “Tuxedo” tumbled just 33% to $10.1 million in third over a second frame.

Artisan managed a sixth-place opening for Bible tooner “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie,” which grossed an estimated $6.5 million from just 940 runs.

The big “Dragon” debut — coming a week after a $35.6 million “Bama” bow — had industry-ites marveling that normally sleepy fall has suddenly become yet another active B.O. season. Brett Ratner-helmed remake of 1986 Lecter pic “Manhunter” repped the best-ever fall opening for an R-rated pic, outpacing 1994’s $36.4 million bow for “Interview with a Vampire.”

Industrywide, the fulsome weekend marked a 20% improvement over the same frame a year ago with $111 million in estimated total grosses, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. Sesh is the first ever to tread north of $100 million in October.

Year-to-date, 2002 is 13% ahead of the same portion of last year with $6.84 billion in total B.O. If that pace continues through year’s end, 12-month industry grosses would exceed $9 billion for the first time following a record $8.13 billion haul in 2001.

Limited pics click

Meanwhile, handful of pics mounted successful limited bows this weekend.

Warner Bros.’ “Welcome to Collinwood” grossed an estimated $82,000 from 16 theaters in five markets, or an acceptable $5,125 per venue. A production of George Clooney’s and Steven Soderbergh’s Section Eight shingle, “Collinwood” enters additional markets Oct. 18 and 25.

Paramount Classics’ well-reviewed drama “Bloody Sunday” unspooled in a pair of Gotham locations and grossed $32,000 — an impressive $16,000 per site.

And well-received Miramax drama “Heaven” grossed $54,000 from four L.A. and Gotham engagements for a celestial $13,500 per playdate.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Disney expanded its “Moonlight Mile” drama by 412 theaters for a total 434 and grossed $2 million, or $4,614 per venue with a $2.4 million cume. Perf was good for ninth place among all weekend titles.

Mouse’s anime tooner “Spirited Away” added 44 engagements for a total 93 and grossed $600,000, or $6,492 per playdate with a $1.9 million cume.

United Artists widened laffer “Igby Goes Down” by 26 theaters for a total 147 and grossed $506,000, or $3,443 per venue with a $2.7 million cume.

Goldwyn/Fireworks broadened Mick Jagger-Andy Garcia starrer “The Man from Elysian Fields” by 15 engagements to 21 and grossed $94,500, or $4,500 per playdate with a $163,863 cume.

And Menemsha held in a single Gotham location with docu “Shanghai Ghetto” to gross $10,603 with a $28,765 cume. Jewish-themed film adds five New York runs Friday and a single L.A. site Oct. 25.

The big “Dragon” opening compares to an even more sizeable bow for franchise predecessor “Hannibal,” which opened at $58 million in February 2001. (Hopkins first portrayed films’ serial-killer central character — created by novelist Thomas Harris — in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” a $13.8 million opener.)

U execs said it would be unfair to compare “Hannibal” and “Dragon.” “Hannibal” — a co-prod with pic distrib MGM — enjoyed an important advantage as the first sequel to well-regarded Oscar-winning “Lambs,” whereas “Dragon” was a “Lambs” prequel.

And “Hannibal” left a bad taste in the mouth of many “Lambs” lovers.

“I think that ‘Red Dragon’ had to overcome the fact that ‘Hannibal’ played like a horror film,” U distrib maven Nikki Rocco observed.

Some 91% of patrons rated “Dragon” “excellent” or “very good” in U exit interviews. “I really have confidence this picture is going to have legs,” Rocco said. U estimated production costs at $78 million.

“Dragon” broke the previous record for an October opening of $28.6 million, rung up by U’s “Meet the Parents” two years ago. “Dragon” auds were evenly split between males and females, with 50% of patrons under age 30.

Edward Norton — franchise’s latest co-star to match his FBI agent wits with Hopkins’ Lecter — scored a personal best in outpacing his opening with last year’s “The Score.”

Auds eat their veggies

“Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie” was heavily marketed through church groups, and Artisan execs were pleased with the results.

“We think it was a remarkable opening,” said distrib topper Steve Rothenberg.

G-rated pic’s relatively modest run will be widened in much of the U.S. next weekend. “Jonah” was especially light on Northeast screens, but Artisan plans to boost East Coast engagements beginning Oct. 18.

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