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The Mini-Majors: Miramax

Top pix: 'Chcago,' 'Spy Kids'

Grossing the $1 billion threshold in international grosses for the first time, Miramax had a record year, led by the company’s all-time top earner, Oscar laureate “Chicago.” Overall domestic grosses through Dec. 15 totaled $635 million, with international chalking up $503 million.

Those tallies outshone 2001’s previous high of $608.6 million domestic and $350 million foreign, with the huge leap in the latter due largely to Miramax’s increasing tendency to release its own titles through Buena Vista Intl. rather than going through independent distribs.

Sister unit Dimension showed money-spinning franchises “Spy Kids” and “Scary Movie” still had major muscle.

Despite some commercial disappointments like “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” Miramax generated solid results with “Gangs of New York” and “Kill Bill Vol. 1.”

Miramax is looking to cap its banner year with “Cold Mountain,” an $80 million solo venture that represents unprecedented financial exposure for the company.

“We’re going to work very hard to make the film successful,” says Miramax chief operations officer Rick Sands. “We knew it was risky when we went in, but if you’re going to take risks, you do it with a writer-director like Anthony Minghella.”

While rumors circulated last year that co-chairman Harvey Weinstein was huddling with bankers to finance his own film slate or even buy back the company from Disney, Sands says reports of tension between the Miramax chief and Michael Eisner are “greatly exaggerated.”

“We actually work exceptionally well with Disney, domestically in the homevideo arena and internationally in theatrical,” Sands says. “People just like to propagate bad news.”

In 2004, Miramax is banking on “Jersey Girl,” “Ella Enchanted,” “J.M. Barrie’s Neverland” and the “Kill Bill” conclusion, while Dimension is looking to Wes Craven’s “Cursed” and Terry Gilliam’s “Brothers Grimm,” as well as a fourth “Scary Movie” installment.

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