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Soaring 'Angels' Herald the Advent of Holiday Season

Box Office * The lady detectives deliver $40.5 million and help to boost the year's numbers.


The reason major studios are constantly plundering the television vaults is simple: When the film version of a successful series hits, it hits big. And "Charlie's Angels," starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, arrived in theaters with trumpets blaring, officially announcing the arrival of the year-end holiday season with a celestial estimate of $40.5 million on 3,037 screens.

Three years and umpteen screenwriters in the making, the tongue-in-cheek reworking of the quarter-century-old action series looks to be "the first female event movie ever," says producer Leonard Goldberg. He was in Manhattan for opening weekend, where the multiplexes he visited on Saturday were all sold out through midnight. Nationwide, the film averaged more than $13,000 a theater.

The news is all good, according to Sony marketing and distribution chief Jeff Blake, since the Friday-to-Saturday jump in ticket sales--from $13 million to more than $16 million--indicates broad demographic appeal. (Friday night is usually the younger audience, with the adults dropping by the next evening.) Surprisingly, says Blake, 65% of the audience was older than 21, which means the film is not just bringing in the young action crowd. Just as important, males and females both gave the film the thumbs-up on the way out. That kind of broad-based support is what studio executives dream about, since it means the film probably has legs.

The weekend's other major arrival, "The Legend of Bagger Vance," starring Matt Damon and Will Smith, also has angelic overtones, but could not fly over the unstoppable "Meet the Parents" and had to settle for a third-place finish, about $12 million in 2,061 theaters. Given the period drama's mediocre reviews and the sheer quantity of the upcoming competition, "Bagger" will have to generate extra-strong word-of-mouth to stay in the tournament for the next several rounds.

Despite the huge "Angels" debut, "Meet the Parents" registered its fifth weekend of double-digit grosses, the past three days at the box office generating an estimated $13.1 million on 2,672 screens (down just 13%). Even with Adam Sandler's new comedy, "Little Nicky," arriving next weekend, and expected to skew to a younger audience, "Parents" appears primed to play well into the holiday season, adding to its already impressive total of almost $117 million.

"Remember the Titans" is also still on its feet after six weeks on 2,737 screens, dropping only 12% to approximately $7 million and almost $97 million to date. By next weekend, "Titans" will become the 15th release of the new year to top $100 million but will have its mettle tested against two new arrivals--"Men of Honor," starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro, and "The Red Planet" starring Val Kilmer.

In fifth place, the "Blair Witch Project" sequel, "Book of Shadows," is beating a hasty retreat, dropping 60% in its second weekend on 3,320 screens to about $5.3 million. It has collected just over $22 million in 10 days, but that looks likely to be the lion's share of its theatrical haul. Unless the sequel-meisters can brew up something completely different for another installment, the "Blair Witch" legend may stop here.

Charlie and his angels helped boost the normally quiet attendance of the first weekend in November a mighty 54.5% ahead of last year, according to box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, with the top 12 films grossing approximately $97 million. That's an impressive launch for the chock-a-block Thanksgiving and Christmas roster and gives the year a fighting chance of at least equaling 1999's record-breaking $7.5-billion box office haul.

Meanwhile, "Bedazzled" continued to slide, with third weekend grosses down 40% to almost $4.7 million on 2,500 screens and an OK $30.8 million to date. "Pay It Forward" is still holding on after three weeks with $4.4 million or thereabouts on 2,130 screens and just over $25 million so far.

"The Little Vampire" is keeping family audiences amused in advance of the grinches and dalmatians due in the next couple of weeks. Second weekend was about $3.6 million on 2,009 screens and $9.3 million in 10 days. "Lucky Numbers" dive-bombed 52% in its second weekend to a miserable $2.2 million in 2,528 theaters and less than $8 million in two weeks. "The Legend of Drunken Master" rounds out the top 10 with an acceptable $1.6 million estimated in its third weekend on 1,183 screens and almost $10 million so far.

Expanding to 119 screens over the weekend, "Billy Elliot" leaped to $1.1 million--almost $9,000 a theater--and just shy of $3 million so far. Next weekend, "Billy" will test the waters nationwide on almost 500 screens. "Requiem for a Dream" is also racking up impressive totals in its first broadening to 25 screens, grossing an estimated $260,000--more than $10,000 a theater--and just over $900,000 so far.

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