Weekend Box Office (December 20 - 22, 2002)

THIS WEEKEND Middle Earth conquered the planet as the highly-anticipated fantasy sequel The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers crushed the competition and towered over the North American box office with an opening weekend gross of $62M over the Friday-to-Sunday span, according to final figures, and a jaw-dropping $102M over the five-day period since its Wednesday bow. Consumer appetite for the J.R.R. Tolkien stories has grown significantly since last year as Towers witnessed improvements of 31% over the three days and 36% over the five days when compared to the opening of its predecessor The Fellowship of the Ring which also launched this weekend a year ago.

The Two Towers smashed the old December opening record set by Fellowship which grossed $47.2M over three days and $75.1M over five days. The Peter Jackson-directed sequel played in 3,622 theaters domestically averaging a stellar $17,120. With multiplexes playing extra prints, Towers saturated the marketplace with a total of 6,633 prints. By comparison, Fellowship opened in 3,359 theaters with 5,700 prints. Reviews were mostly glowing for Two Towers and fans agreed as moviegoers polled by CinemaScore.com gave the PG-13 film an overall A grade.

Nominated for Golden Globe awards for best picture and best director, The Two Towers also unspooled in 26 international markets and grossed an estimated $85M over five days, according to distributor New Line Cinema. Roughly 5,000 additional prints are currently circulating overseas with several key territories still to open. Fellowship was a worldwide behemoth grossing over $860M and with an expanded fan base, Towers aims to set an even higher benchmark. The final chapter in the $270M-budgeted trilogy, The Return of the King, is scheduled to launch at the same time next year - Wednesday December 17, 2003.

Back on plain old Earth, Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant generated a solid opening of $14.3M for their new romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice which bowed in second place. The Warner Bros. release averaged a charming $5,201 per venue and played to adult women and adult couples. Audiences were generally pleased as those polled by CinemaScore.com gave it a B+ grade. For star/producer Bullock, the opening was in line with the bows of most of her bigger pictures. The studio hopes that as holiday shopping and parties come to an end, the target audience will become more available and Weeks will remain the top choice for mature adults throughout the holidays.

Last weekend's top film Maid in Manhattan dropped 43% to third place with $10.7M. The Jennifer Lopez-Ralph Fiennes comedy has grossed $35.3M in ten days and could reach $75-80M overall.

Leonardo DiCaprio's nearly three-year absence from theaters came to an end with the moderate-size opening of the epic drama Gangs of New York which grossed $9.5M from 1,504 venues. Also starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz, the Martin Scorsese film's solid $6,314 average was second best in the top ten behind The Two Towers. While not a spectacular opening, Gangs did post respectable numbers given its theater count, the 2 hour 45 minute length, and the formidable competiton in the marketplace. Miramax plans to expand the R-rated film into about 2,150 sites on Christmas Day which is the same day that DiCaprio's other new release, Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can co-starring Tom Hanks, opens nationwide. Winner of five Golden Globe nominations including one for best picture, Gangs of New York earned a decent B grade from CinemaScore.com.

Fox's marching band pic Drumline dropped back 44% and brought in $7.1M in its second weekend putting it in fifth place. The college-set pic has grossed $22.4M in ten days and might find its way to $50-55M.

Paramount got off to a slow start with its animated family film The Wild Thornberrys which opened ultrawide in 3,012 theaters grossing $6M. Averaging only $1,997 per theater, the PG-rated feature adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon series hopes to build strength over the holidays since parents were busy with holiday shopping this weekend. Recent holiday toons such as Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, The Emperor's New Groove, and The Prince of Egypt have all opened right before Christmas and have gone on to gross six to nine times their bow. Budgeted in the mid-$20M range, The Wild Thornberrys generated very positive reviews from critics and scored an impressive A from CinemaScore.com.

But regardless of how The Wild Thornberrys performs in the long run, it will not save Paramount from ending the year in last place among the big six studios in market share. Despite a strong first half, pricey duds in the second half of 2002 like K-19 and The Four Feathers prevented the studio from beating its main rivals.

Rob Schneider's The Hot Chick dropped 38% to $4.6M in its second weekend. The Buena Vista release has taken in $13.8M in ten days and could find its way to about $30M.

End-of-year sequels filled up the remaining positions in the top ten. Paramount's woes continued as Star Trek: Nemesis suffered one the largest second-weekend drops in recent memory crumbling an astounding 76% to $4.4M. The tenth installment of the venerable sci-fi series has grossed just $26.5M in ten days and looks set to reach roughly $35M making it the worst-performing film in the Trek family. Opening five days before The Two Towers certainly didn't help the box office run of the $60M-budgeted Nemesis as most of the sci-fi/fantasy crowd got completely distracted by the return of Frodo and company. Whether Paramount can financially justify developing another Trek film will be a key issue for the studio in coming years.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets dipped 31% to $4.4M raising its cume to $228.8M. That puts the Warner Bros. wizard pic at number 30 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters ahead of the $227.3M of last summer's Signs. MGM's Die Another Day rounded out the top ten dropping 48% to $4M for a $138.5M total.

In limited-release openings, Denzel Washington's directorial debut Antwone Fisher grossed $210,013 from 15 theaters for a sturdy $14,000 average. Fox Searchlight reported phenomenal exit poll results with 98% of the audience calling the film "excellent" or "very good" and 95% saying they would definitely recommend it. On Christmas Day, the distributor will expand Fisher into 25 markets for a total of roughly 180 theaters. More expansions are scheduled for New Year's Day and January 10.

Media Partners and Bollywood Pictures opened the Hindi-language action thriller Kaante in just 26 theaters but grossed $425,975 for a sizzling $16,384 average. Starring Amitabh Bachchan, the Sanjay Gupta-directed film is the first Bollywood film shot entirely in Los Angeles.

Paramount's well-reviewed drug drama Narc bowed to $63,303 from six theaters for a good $10,550 average. The Jason Patric-Ray Liotta film will expand to about 800 theaters on January 10.

The Nicolas Cage pic Adaptation expanded into 20 markets and grossed $1.1M from 109 theaters for a solid $10,165 average. The Sony release has grossed $2.1M thus far.

Four films dropped from the top ten over the weekend. With Christmas right around the corner, Disney's The Santa Clause 2 held up well sliding just 21% to $3.2M in its eighth frame. The G-rated family film has grossed $129.8M to date and may conclude with $140-145M putting it near its predecessor, 1994's The Santa Clause, which grossed $144.8M.

Analyze That continued to erode rapidly tumbling 56% to $2.4M. The Warner Bros. release has banked $24M and should finish with around $30M which will be a far cry from the $106.8M sum of 1999's Analyze This.

Disney's big-budget bomb Treasure Planet has collected just $29.9M so far and should end with about $36M. Universal's urban tale Empire has grossed $13.2M and looks to reach around $17M.

The top ten films grossed $127.1M which was up 6% from last year when The Fellowship of the Ring opened at number one with $47.2M. 2000 had a four-day holiday frame which cannot be compared to.

Compared to projections, The Two Towers opened a bit stronger than my $60M three-day forecast. Two Weeks Notice and Gangs of New York were both close to my respective predictions of $12M and $11M. The Wild Thornberrys came in below my $11M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Catch Me If You Can. In last week's survey, readers were asked if they thought The Two Towers would open bigger than The Fellowship of the Ring. Of 3,902 responses, 92% correctly said Yes, while 8% thought No.

For a review of The Two Towers visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's post-Christmas frame when Catch Me If You Can and Pinocchio enter the marketplace.

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

# Title Dec 20 - 22 Dec 13 - 15 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers $ 62,007,528 3,622 1 $ 17,120 $ 102,046,212 New Line
2 Two Weeks Notice 14,328,494 2,755 1 5,201 14,328,494 Warner Bros.
3 Maid in Manhattan 10,712,011 18,711,407 -42.8 2,866 2 3,738 35,256,011 Sony
4 Gangs of New York 9,496,870 1,504 1 6,314 9,496,870 Miramax
5 Drumline 7,125,270 12,604,705 -43.5 1,837 2 3,879 22,359,766 Fox
6 The Wild Thornberrys 6,013,847 3,012 1 1,997 6,013,847 Paramount
7 The Hot Chick 4,576,225 7,401,146 -38.2 2,217 2 2,064 13,773,388 Buena Vista
8 Star Trek: Nemesis 4,415,081 18,513,305 -76.2 2,711 2 1,629 26,466,862 Paramount
9 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 4,371,410 6,324,387 -30.9 2,750 6 1,590 228,821,682 Warner Bros.
10 Die Another Day 4,030,346 7,785,055 -48.2 2,075 5 1,942 138,494,620 MGM
11 The Santa Clause 2 3,204,145 4,051,966 -20.9 1,701 8 1,884 129,836,982 Buena Vista
12 Analyze That 2,385,371 5,467,471 -56.4 2,011 3 1,186 23,968,282 Warner Bros.
13 My Big Fat Greek Wedding 1,461,534 1,704,285 -14.2 973 36 1,502 217,765,974 IFC Films
14 Empire 1,382,630 2,963,290 -53.3 766 3 1,805 13,204,630 Universal
15 Treasure Planet 1,302,772 3,102,173 -58.0 1,804 4 722 29,905,068 Buena Vista
16 Adaptation 1,108,032 277,184 299.7 109 3 10,165 2,106,476 Sony
17 About Schmidt 601,711 282,367 113.1 26 2 23,143 1,023,197 New Line
18 Far From Heaven 601,250 722,430 -16.8 235 7 2,559 8,932,005 Focus
19 Frida 458,185 868,088 -47.2 263 9 1,742 19,314,138 Miramax
20 Kaante 425,975 26 1 16,384 425,975 Media Partners
Top 5 $ 103,670,173 $ 65,015,618 59.5
Top 10 127,077,082 86,924,905 46.2
Top 20 140,008,687 98,132,558 42.7
Top 10 vs. 2001 127,077,082 119,543,145 6.3

Last Updated : December 23, 2002 at 6:30PM EST