Weekend Box Office (December 15 - 17, 2000)

THIS WEEKEND Mel Gibson proved to be extremely desirable to moviegoers as his new romantic comedy What Women Want delivered a record opening swiping the number one spot from the holiday blockbuster How The Grinch Stole Christmas which reigned over the box office for the past four weeks. The teen comedy Dude, Where's My Car? also debuted impressively while Disney's animated feature The Emperor's New Groove witnessed a more subdued arrival. Meanwhile, in limited release, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon continued to sizzle in select markets. Most major holdovers suffered steep declines with the added competiton, but the overall marketplace managed to generate the biggest non-holiday December weekend ever.

Paramount set a new December opening weekend record with the muscular launch of What Women Want which collected $33.6M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures. Starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, the PG-13 picture about a man who acquires the ability to read women's minds entered 3,012 theaters and averaged a powerful $11,160 per venue. December's previous best bow was Scream 2's $32.9M debut in 1997. What Women Want now ranks third among Gibson openings after 1996's kidnap thriller Ransom ($34.2M) and 1998's cop buddy sequel Lethal Weapon 4 ($34M).

Mature females made up the largest portion of consumers and exit polls were very favorable, according to the studio. Generally, adult women are less accessible in mid-December due to the added distractions of holiday shopping and preparations, which made the performance even more incredible. Budgeted at $63M, What Women Want is well-positioned to display remarkable legs over the holiday season and should become one of the highest-grossing films for the action star ever.

Fox enjoyed a terrific opening for its teen comedy Dude, Where's My Car? which landed in second place with a cool $13.8M. Lighting up in 2,087 joints, the PG-13 film averaged a sweet $6,634 per theater. Dude stars Ashton Kutcher (That '70s Show) and Seann William Scott (Road Trip, American Pie) as two pot-smoking pals who try to retrace their steps after a wild night of partying which they can't remember. The studio strategically programmed the low-budget $13M film at a time when teens and young adults had almost nothing specifically for them and scored a fantastic debut. With students leaving school for winter break, and a barrage of older-skewing pictures scheduled for release next weekend, sales for Dude could remain strong over the weeks ahead.

After four straight weeks at number one, Universal's smash hit How The Grinch Stole Christmas finally stepped aside but still managed to register the smallest decline in the top ten easing only 26% to $13.8M. With a towering total of $213.6M, the Jim Carrey behemoth now stands at number 27 on the all-time domestic blockbuster list right behind Mission: Impossible 2 which took in $215.4M. Later this week, Grinch will surpass MI2 to become this year's highest-grossing film.

Disney climbed back into the family film race with its animated comedy The Emperor's New Groove which opened moderately with $9.8M. Playing in 2,801 theaters, the tale of a monarch's quest to reclaim his kingdom averaged a mild $3,503. The G-rated film features the voices of David Spade, John Goodman, and Eartha Kitt with original songs by Sting. Emperor enjoyed the best exit polls among the three new releases according to CinemaScore. Buena Vista reported that 93% of patrons polled rated the film "excellent" or "very good" and that the turnout was primarily from families.

Though playing extremely wide, Emperor's opening did not match those of other recent family films launching in mid-December like last year's Stuart Little ($15M) and 1998's The Prince of Egypt ($14.5M). However, the studio expects the majority of its business to come in the weeks ahead as kids begin leaving school and the holidays make the target audience more available.

Sony's mountain rescue thriller Vertical Limit dropped 41% in its second weekend taking in $9.1M. With $28.8M in ten days, the $78M action film could find its way to $65-75M domestically and enjoy a strong run overseas.

Sales tumbled 47% for the Meg Ryan-Russell Crowe hostage picture Proof of Life to $5.4M in its second weekend. The Warner Bros. release has struggled to find its place in the crowd and has collected $18.8M in ten days. Budgeted in the neighborhood of $80M, Proof of Life might reach around $40M stateside.

The Disney duo of Unbreakable and 102 Dalmatians suffered heavy declines and followed with grosses of $3.7M and $2.7M, respectively. The Bruce Willis suspense thriller fell 51% and brought its cume to $83.1M while the family sequel tumbled 57% raising its total to $48M.

The fantasy adventure Dungeons & Dragons was hit with the worst drop in the top ten diving 66% to $2.4M. Produced for about $36M, the New Line release has grossed only $11.1M in ten days and should end its run quickly with roughly $15M. Paramount's animated sequel Rugrats in Paris collected $1.8M, off 54%, bringing its cume to $63M.

The martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon once again dominated the field of limited release titles. Adding Los Angeles, the Sony Pictures Classics hit played in only 31 theaters but grossed an amazing $1M for an eye-popping average of $34,799 per site. The acclaimed film was also honored with four awards including best picture of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association on Saturday boosting its profile as a top contender for Oscar kudos. After ten days of very limited play, Crouching Tiger has grossed an unbelievable $2.1M.

Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, described the demand for tickets as unprecedented saying "exhibitors have never seen anything like it." He remarked that Crouching Tiger is playing incredibly well with all crowds including teen, action, art, and mainstream. This Friday, the romantic action film expands into approximately 150 theaters adding markets like Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Phoenix. Bernard then plans to widen into a minimum of 500 runs on January 12 after the holiday movies begin playing out and expand into over 1,000 location by mid-February when Academy Award nominations are announced.

Fox Searchlight expanded its award-winning period piece Quills from 9 to 61 theaters and saw sales shoot up to $442,182. Averaging a strong $7,249 per location, the costume drama brought in large crowds in new markets like Denver, Seattle, and Dallas, according to distribution president Steve Gilula, and has lifted its total to $1.4M. The company will add more cities next weekend and expects to be in over 200 theaters by Christmas Day. Quills was named the best film of the year by the National Board of Review.

Debuting in limited release, Miramax's Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp scored a strong $19,703 average by grossing $157,624 from eight theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Sony Classics platformed the Ed Harris drama Pollock in two sites and grossed $44,244.

A pair of fall blockbusters fell out of the top ten over the weekend. Universal's comedy hit Meet the Parents grossed $1.2M pushing its cume to a staggering $159M. The Robert De Niro-Ben Stiller smash spent more time in the top ten than any other film this year with ten weeks and became the biggest grosser in De Niro's career. Budgeted at $51M, Parents should finish its domestic run with $160-165M and perform fairly well overseas.

The action-adventure Charlie's Angels brought its cume to $121.1M after a $1.1M weekend. The $92M Sony picture should finish with just under $125M domestically and will soar well ahead of that mark internationally. Even the film's music has become a big success as Charlie's Angels has had the nation's top selling soundtrack album for nearly two months.

Also leaving the top ten was Miramax's romance Bounce which has grossed $35.8M to date. Budgeted at $35M, the Ben Affleck-Gwenyth Paltrow drama looks to end its run with under $40M.

The top ten films grossed $96.2M which was up 32% from last year when Stuart Little opened in the top spot with $15M; and up 38% from 1998 when You've Got Mail debuted at number one with $18.4M.

Compared to projections, What Women Want surged well ahead of my $16M forecast. Dude, Where's My Car? also opened better than my $10M prediction. The Emperor's New Groove debuted below my $14M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the biggest box office flops of the fall season. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of this weekend's movies would have the biggest opening. Of 3,022 responses, 44% picked The Emperor's New Groove, 43% correctly chose What Women Want, while 13% went with Dude Where's My Car?

Read the Weekly Rewind column on the box office track record of Meg Ryan. For a review of Vertical Limit visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's busy frame when Cast Away, The Family Man, Miss Congeniality, and Dracula 2000 all open for Christmas.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and electronics at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Dec. 15 - 17 Dec. 8 - 10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Dist.
1 What Women Want $ 33,614,543 3,012 1 $ 11,160 $ 33,614,543 Paramount
2 Dude, Where's My Car? 13,845,914 2,087 1 6,634 13,845,914 Fox
3 How The Grinch Stole Christmas 13,805,465 18,646,520 -26.0 3,256 5 4,240 213,634,400 Universal
4 The Emperor's New Groove 9,812,302 2,801 1 3,503 9,812,302 Buena Vista
5 Vertical Limit 9,103,866 15,507,845 -41.3 2,307 2 3,946 28,811,128 Sony
6 Proof of Life 5,382,656 10,207,869 -47.3 2,705 2 1,990 18,771,182 Warner Bros.
7 Unbreakable 3,734,493 7,538,063 -50.5 2,297 4 1,626 83,119,244 Buena Vista
8 102 Dalmatians 2,664,601 6,233,029 -57.3 2,190 4 1,217 47,995,472 Buena Vista
9 Dungeons & Dragons 2,438,086 7,237,422 -66.3 2,078 2 1,173 11,147,608 New Line
10 Rugrats in Paris 1,839,832 3,952,419 -53.5 2,540 5 724 62,968,809 Paramount
11 Meet the Parents 1,200,775 3,026,710 -60.3 1,380 11 870 159,004,330 Universal
12 Charlie's Angels 1,102,208 2,626,076 -58.0 1,625 7 678 121,106,919 Sony
13 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 1,078,762 663,205 62.7 31 2 34,799 2,145,415 Sony Classics
14 Bounce 929,821 2,592,226 -64.1 1,658 5 561 35,825,414 Miramax
15 Men of Honor 903,851 2,119,233 -57.4 1,290 6 701 46,242,629 Fox
16 Billy Elliot 585,220 916,095 -36.1 405 10 1,445 15,484,250 Uni. Focus
17 Quills 442,182 160,164 176.1 61 4 7,249 1,405,023 Fox Search.
18 The 6th Day 372,114 1,365,803 -72.8 704 5 529 33,813,823 Sony
19 You Can Count On Me 247,687 297,194 -16.7 52 6 4,763 2,379,148 Par. Classics
20 Best in Show 203,074 310,476 -34.6 206 12 986 16,574,225 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 80,182,090 $ 59,137,719 35.6
Top 10 96,241,758 77,568,179 24.1
Top 20 103,307,452 85,037,691 21.5
Top 20 vs. 1999 103,307,452 77,361,049 33.5

Last Updated : December 18 at 9:30PM EST

Written by Gitesh Pandya