There's no box-office iceberg in the path of "Titanic," which came out on top for a second week. James Cameron's epic grossed an estimated $35.6 million over the weekend, sinking the record for December set by "Scream 2" just two weeks ago and surpassing its own opening weekend gross of $28.6 million.
"Titanic" also hauled in $9.2 million on Thursday, the highest Christmas Day total since "Godfather 3" opened Dec. 25, 1990. A joint production of Paramount and 20th Century Fox, the film is being distributed domestically by Paramount. Made for a reported $200 million, the movie has taken in $88.6 million in U.S. ticket sales since it opened on Dec. 19. Also, in a repeat of last weekend, "Tomorrow Never Dies" ranked second. The latest James Bond adventure starring Pierce Brosnan took in $21 million for MGM/United Artists over the weekend, $27 million including Christmas. It's grossed $62 million in its first two weekends in theaters.
"As Good as It Gets," the comedy from James L. Brooks, nabbed third place on its opening weekend. The Sony release grossed $12.5 million over the weekend, and is playing in 1,572 theaters--compared to more than 2,700 for both "Titanic" and "Tomorrow."
Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing, was pleased that the film found an audience in this remarkably crowded movie market. Five films opened wide last week, and a total of 14 films are running in more than 1,000 theaters.
"We're one of the victories at Christmas," Blake said. "It's just a well-directed and well-acted movie about people. There are no special effects, it's not a sequel, it's not aiming for the hot teen audience, and we managed to do very well."
"Jackie Brown," writer-director Quentin Tarantino's new picture for Miramax, placed fourth in its debut on 1,370 screens. It took in $8.8 million over the weekend, comparable to the $9.3-million opening of "Pulp Fiction." Including Christmas, the movie grossed $12.3 million.
While not as enthusiastically greeted by critics as its predecessor, "Jackie Brown" looks to be another financial winner for Miramax--especially given that they spent only $12 million making it.
The one film not lifted by the holiday tide seems to be Warner Bros.' "The Postman," starring and directed by Kevin Costner. On 2,207 screens, it made only $5.3 million in its first four days, not even breaking into the Top 10.
"The Postman" could be the latest in a string of underachievers for Warner Bros. The high-profile films "Mad City" and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" both failed to deliver at the box office.
Even "Waterworld"--which Costner starred in but did not direct--made $21.2 million on its opening weekend in July 1995.
Moviegoers on the whole spent an estimated $180 million on tickets this weekend, according to John Krier, the president of Exhibitor Relations, the firm that tracks box-office receipts. A strong December helped push the box office past 1996's record of $5.9 billion in total ticket sales. Krier's estimate for 1997 is $6.2 billion.
"Look at all the good pictures out there," Krier said. "Each in its category. I am surprised that they're all doing that well with all the competition, though."
Christmas vacation helped out children's movies like DreamWorks' "Mouse Hunt," which saw a 65% jump in its audience. It grossed $10 million over the weekend and $1.8 million on Christmas, for fifth place.
At No. 6, Miramax's "Scream 2" milked the teen audience for another $8.7 million over the weekend, totaling $70.7 million to date. Disney's "An American Werewolf in Paris," the first horror rival to "Scream 2," landed at No. 7, with $7.8 million for the weekend.
DreamWorks' "Amistad" moved into 712 theaters on Christmas--up from only 480--and saw a 55% jump in their haul. Steven Spielberg's slave ship drama grossed $5.1 million for the weekend, another $1.2 million on Christmas, and $17.7 million in its first three weeks in theaters.
Disney's two comedies rounded out the Top 10. "Flubber" bounced in with a $5.8 million weekend total ($73.4 million to date), and "Mr. Magoo" grossed $5.5 million in its first weekend in theaters.
The post-Christmas weekend was also a gift to movies in limited release. Disney's "Kundun," which traces the life of the Dalai Lama through his exile from Tibet, took in an estimated $100,000 since Thursday in only two theaters. This, despite the fact that the film is a departure for director Martin Scorsese, best known for hard-edged pictures like "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas," and a lukewarm response to the Brad Pitt vehicle "Seven Years in Tibet" earlier this year.
New Line put "Wag the Dog," Barry Levinson's satire from David Mamet and Hilary Henkin's script, in only three theaters. It grossed $120,000 since opening on Christmas Day, a $32,000 per-screen average. It will widen to about 1,500 theaters Jan 9.
"We thought the picture would require somewhat of a setup," said Al Shapiro, president of domestic distribution for Fine Line and New Line. "People had to hear about it some before it becomes a have-to-see picture."
Fine Line's "Deconstructing Harry," Woody Allen's latest comedy, grew from 10 to 79 screens nationwide, and grossed $770,000. "The Winter Guest," also a Fine Line release, took in $20,000 on three screens over the weekend, and $42,000 since it opened Wednesday.
"The Sweet Hereafter," from Alliance/New Line, grossed $189,000 on 55 screens, a cumulative gross of $731,000 over the last two months.
"Titanic did really well," said Shapiro, "but it dragged everything else along with it."
All box office reports are based on estimates of Sunday's ticket sales. Final figures will be released today.