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'Grinch' Launches Pre-Holiday Attack

Box Office * Jim Carrey sneaks in ahead of Thanksgiving with the fifth-best debut of all time.


Whether or not he steals Christmas, the Grinch has an excellent chance of pilfering Thanksgiving, based on his first three days in 3,127 theaters across the nation. In what looks to be a record-shattering pre-holiday weekend, the feature-length version of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," starring Jim Carrey, scaled the top of the box-office mountain with an estimated $55.1-million debut.

The only film that's ever done better at this time of year was "Toy Story 2," with about $57.4 million, and that was a sequel that opened over the three-day Thanksgiving weekend period, one of the high attendance points of the year.

Universal is claiming high-fives all around, since "Grinch" is the studio's fifth consecutive No. 1 opening--which has never been done before--and the fifth-highest opening of all time.

"Grinch" is a personal best for Carrey and director Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment, and the year's second-biggest opener behind "M:I-2" (again, a sequel).

Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco said the "Grinch" audience was primarily families but that the attendance bump from Friday to Saturday of 45% means grown-ups also showed up on Saturday night without the kids.

Since it's playing to viewers from 8 to 80, "Grinch" seems likely to purloin its way to $100 million by the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

While "Grinch" dominated the weekend charts, three other new arrivals posted good to mediocre results.

Against stiff competition for the family audience, "Rugrats in Paris" more than held its own, grossing an estimated $23 million on 2,934 screens. That's only slightly behind the $27-million start for the previous "Rugrats" in 1998, which arrived without Grinchian competition.

Two Arnold Schwarzeneggers in "The 6th Day" didn't prove to be better than one, based on the $13.2-million estimate for the action hero's latest adventure, which debuted in 2,516 theaters. And starting Wednesday, Arnold will be going mano a mano for the action audience with Bruce Willis in the drama "Unbreakable." Still, "6th Day" is expected to do well overseas, where Schwarzenegger's star still shines bright.

Despite mixed reviews, "Bounce," with Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, had the date-night audience virtually to itself and produced an $11.5-million start in 1,918 theaters. It should continue to attract the female audience through the holiday.

If the early estimates hold up, the just-concluded weekend could turn out to be bigger than last year's three-day Thanksgiving period. According to box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, five movies grossed $11 million or more, and the top 12 movies delivered $148 million, a cool 42% ahead of the same weekend last year, when both "The World Is Not Enough" and "Sleepy Hollow" debuted to more than $30 million each. By comparison, the top 12 films over last year's three-day Thanksgiving period grossed $146 million.

And with two more potentially strong movies--"102 Dalmatians" and "Unbreakable"--joining the Thanksgiving mix on Wednesday, this year's box-office lineup could challenge last year's $208-million total over the five-day holiday.

The quartet of new films this weekend knocked some of the air out of the leaders of weeks past. The female action trio of Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz in "Charlie's Angels" got their wings clipped with a 45% drop to a still hearty $13.7 million in 3,037 theaters, with almost $94 million so far. A sequel is already in the works.

But don't expect a second "Little Nicky." Up against Carrey, the Adam Sandler devil-or-angel comedy folded, plummeting 52% in its second weekend to $7.7 million in 2,910 theaters, for a so-so 10-day total of just over $26 million.

"Men of Honor" also took a bit of a dive against the more high-profile films, dropping 40% to a still-seaworthy estimate of $8 million in 2,119 theaters and a more-than-respectable $25 million in its first 10 days.

"Meet the Parents" was finally dislodged from the top five after six weeks. But with $6.4 million expected over the weekend on 2,420 screens, "Parents" should stay in the game through early December, adding to its already strong $138.6-million total.

The bottom of the top 10 included the fast-fading "Legend of Bagger Vance," which has taken in just over $25 million in three weeks, but only $2.9 million in its third weekend in 2,109 theaters. "Bagger" looks to be Will Smith's lowest-grossing vehicle in some time.

"Red Planet" is clearly an aborted mission after only 10 days, with its second weekend total dropping about 70% to a miserable $2.7 million in 2,703 theaters and a total so far of just $13.4 million.

On the limited-exposure front, "You Can Count on Me" looks like an independent hit based on its expansion into 35 theaters in 10 cities, where it counted on $320,000 for a $480,000 cumulative tally in its first 10 days.

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