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'Minority' Manages to Slip Past 'Lilo'

Movies* The Spielberg thriller takes in $35.7 million to edge Disney's animated feature.


In the end, it wasn't as close as, say, Bush vs. Gore in the 2000 Florida presidential voting, but the weekend box office race between the Steven Spielberg sci-fi thriller "Minority Report" and Disney's new animated feature, "Lilo & Stitch," had all the earmarks of a hard-fought campaign with the potential to bruise many egos.

When the dust had cleared on Monday, director Spielberg's "Minority Report" had emerged--just barely--as the weekend's top movie in North America. The film, released through 20th Century Fox, sold $35.7 million in tickets.

"Lilo & Stitch" had given Spielberg and star Tom Cruise a scare by nearly pulling off the unthinkable. The animated film raked in $35.3 million for second place.

Nevertheless, the close results sent ripples through two major studios.

Fox was breathing a sigh of relief. On Sunday, the studio had estimated that it had easily won the weekend with $36.9 million in ticket sales. That figure ended up being off by $1.2 million. At Disney, executives who at first were fuming that Fox was pumping up its numbers, expressed glee that their little film had nearly toppled Spielberg and Cruise and even outperformed a strong "Scooby-Doo."

"I'm done holding my breath," said Chuck Viane, the distribution chief at Disney. "We not only leapfrogged 'Scooby-Doo' but came within a whisker of 'Minority Report.' That's a credit to our marketing department."

Viane noted that because "Lilo & Stitch" is a family film drawing many children, it played strongly during daytime matinees, when tickets are usually cheaper. So, in effect, while it lost the box office race to "Minority Report," "Lilo & Stitch" actually had more people in the seats.

Though "Lilo & Stitch" came in a close second in box office sales compared to "Minority Report," the movie may be far more lucrative for Disney because "Lilo" was so much less expensive to make.

"Minority Report" cost more than $100 million while "Lilo & Stitch" cost about $80 million. That's far cheaper than the typical budget for an animated feature at Disney and reflects a new, more cost-effective approach to making animated movies. The studio has pared several hundred jobs from its animation division in the last year in response to soaring production and labor costs in the industry.

At Fox, distribution chief Bruce Snyder conceded that his rivals may accuse him of "aggressively" overestimating the box office on "Minority Report," but he noted that he wasn't off by much. That's not too bad, he said, when the complexities of developing those estimates are taken into consideration.

"I guess some people think I should be hanging my head, but I think I should be patting myself on the back," Snyder said. "If they wanted to say I'm aggressive, I guess they could say that. I'm guessing so many numbers, I just want to get close to the numbers."

Andrew Hindes, executive vice president of operations at ACNielsen/EDI, the company that collects the box office figures for the studios, said the race was so close that neither studio has to hang its head in shame.

" 'Lilo & Stitch' had a fantastic marketing campaign," he said. "It was an unknown quantity but the film was also entertaining. The fact that a Tom Cruise film with Steven Spielberg attached is somewhat less of a surprise."

Hindes said that the way studios develop their estimates works this way: EDI collects the box office information from the vast majority of theaters in North America--some 4,000 theaters--that report the grosses once that night's shows finally close. Hindes said the grosses represent about "80% to 90%" of the actual grosses.

EDI then sends those figures on to the studios, Hindes explained, and "they use their own methods to calculate the missing grosses--the grosses we do not collect."

This past weekend, Snyder noted, he knew what "70%" of the grosses were Friday and Saturday nights for "Minority Report" but had to guess at the other 30%. Then on Sunday, he had to guess the entire day's box office.

Last May, Fox came under similar criticism when it estimated that the George Lucas sci-fi prequel "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" had made $86.1 million to come in No. 1. When the final figures came in, however, the film had really made $80 million.

As for last weekend's competition, Snyder said he actually thought Disney would win when the final figures were reported. "I thought they [would come in] between $35.8 million and $36 million," he said.

Asked if he was troubled with Fox's overestimate Sunday, Viane replied: "Look, my estimators have missed. I've missed. Sometimes you are right on. Sometimes you're over and sometimes you're under. But that is why I would like it to be reality-based."

The strong opening for "Lilo & Stitch" gives Walt Disney Co. a needed boost to its animation division. It was the biggest opening for a traditional animated movie from the studio since 1999's "Tarzan."

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