Weekend Box Office (December 27 - 29, 2002)

THIS WEEKEND Saruman and his army of warriors continued to rule the North American box office during the final weekend of 2002 as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers remained the number one film in the land for the second consecutive weekend. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks played cat and mouse in second place with the strong debut of Catch Me If You Can while the rest of the top ten was filled up with holiday holdovers. Overall, the box office was bustling with business as ticket buyers spent nearly $150M on just the top ten films alone helping year-to-date grosses approach the record $9 billion mark.

Mister Frodo and company dominated the post-yuletide box office with The Two Towers which hauled in $48.9M, according to final figures, dropping an understandable 21% from last weekend's record bow. After only 12 days of release, the Peter Jackson-directed film has grossed an astonishing $200.1M. The Two Towers ties Star Wars Episode II to become the second-fastest film in history to break the double century mark. Spider-Man did the deed in just nine days last May. New Line Cinema's blockbuster sequel is by far the most widely distributed film playing in 3,622 theaters and averaged a brawny $13,494 per site.

The middle chapter of the Middle Earth trilogy has consistently been running ahead of the pace of its predecessor, last December's The Fellowship of the Ring. The sophomore weekend take for Towers is 26% better than Fellowship's while the 12-day cume is 28% higher. Towers' second weekend drop of 21% is only a bit steeper than Fellowship's 18%. Towers has already reached number 46 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters after 1998's Armageddon ($201.6M). By the end of next weekend, it could crack the top 20.

At its current pace, The Two Towers stands a good chance of surpassing the $313.4M domestic haul of The Fellowship of the Ring. That is an accomplishment that so many high-profile sequels this year such as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Star Wars Episode II, Men in Black 2, Stuart Little 2, and Star Trek: Nemesis just could not achieve.

Leonardo DiCaprio nabbed the best opening of his career with the Christmas bow of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, co-starring Tom Hanks, which grossed $30.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and $48.7M since its Wednesday launch. The DreamWorks release debuted in 3,156 theaters and averaged a strong $9,532. For DiCaprio, the performance beat the $28.6M opening of 1997's Titanic to become the actor's best ever. Even for bulletproof box office titan Hanks, Catch delivered one of the biggest live-action openings ever joining company with 2000's Cast Away ($39.9M over four days) and 1998's Saving Private Ryan ($30.6M over three days).

In Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio plays one of the country's most notorious young con artists while Hanks takes on the role of the FBI agent assigned to hunt him down. The PG-13 film played to a mostly adult crowd as 70% of the audience was over 25 while 56% were female, according to studio exit polls. The weekend gross even exceeded the combined take of both Two Weeks Notice and Maid in Manhattan which were also star-driven films drawing upon adult women. Moviegoers polled by CinemaScore.com were pleased with Catch as the 1960s-set picture earned a promising A- grade. Despite the presence of another Leo pic (Gangs of New York), audiences had no problem lining up to see Catch Me If You Can.

Slipping one notch to third place was the Sandra Bullock-Hugh Grant comedy Two Weeks Notice which climbed 8% from last weekend to $15.5M in sales. The Warner Bros. title averaged $5,633 and has banked $43M in ten days. Rival romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan followed in fourth with $12.5M in its third date climbing 17% from last weekend. The Jennifer Lopez-Ralph Fiennes pic averaged $4,263 for Sony and has smooched up $57M in 17 days. Both movies seem headed past the $90M mark.

DiCaprio's other holiday movie, Gangs of New York, expanded from 1,504 to 2,190 theaters and placed fifth with $10.9M in its second frame. The three-day haul was up 15% from last weekend's $9.5M bow, however the Martin Scorsese's film's per-theater average of $4,999 actually dropped 21%. With a production budget reportedly north of $100M, Gangs has grossed $29.9M after ten days and needs kudos attention to keep it in the commercial spotlight. It is the only R-rated film in the top ten.

Fox's marching band pic Drumline grossed $8.1M, up 14%, bringing its cume to $36.8M. Kidpic The Wild Thornberrys jumped 23% to $7.4M in its second weekend and pushed its ten-day total to $18.4M.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets enjoyed the biggest holiday boost surging 48% from last weekend to $6.5M. The Warner Bros. blockbuster has now taken in $240.3M and sits at number 26 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters after 1996's Twister ($241.9M). After its seventh weekend, Chamber is running 16% behind the pace of last year's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone which had taken in $285.6M at this point on its way to $317.6M.

Rounding out the top ten were Buena Vista's The Hot Chick with $4.8M and MGM's Die Another Day with $4.4M. Cumes to date are $22.2M and $146.7M, respectively.

Dropping from the top ten over the weekend was Paramount's Star Trek: Nemesis which dipped 8% to $4.1M pushing its sum to $33.8M. With Christmas now history, Disney's The Santa Clause 2 understandably dropped 35% and grossed $2.1M lifting its total to $135.5M.

Opening miserably outside of the top ten was Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio which generated one of the worst debuts for a wide release this year. Miramax released the G-rated film in 1,195 theaters and took in a measly $1.15M resulting in a dismal $964 average. Since its Wednesday bow, Pinocchio has grossed a puny $1.8M. Critics were not impressed and audiences agreed as the film earned an embarrassing D+ grade from CinemaScore.com.

With the year coming to a close and the Academy Award deadline approaching, there was plenty of activity in the limited-release world.

After scoring a leading eight Golden Globe nominations, Miramax's high-energy musical Chicago made its debut at theaters with a sparkling performance grossing $2.1M from just 77 theaters in top markets. The Catherine Zeta-Jones-Richard Gere film averaged $26,947 and will expand into more cities this Friday.

Paramount generated a stellar debut for its femme-driven drama The Hours which bowed in five markets with an estimated $338,622 from only eleven theaters for a sizzling $30,783 average. Winner of seven Globe nods, the critically-acclaimed film stars Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman.

Denzel Washington's directorial debut Antwone Fisher expanded from 15 to 191 theaters on Christmas Day and grossed $1.8M over the weekend. The Fox Searchlight release averaged a promising $9,431 per venue and will widen to about 1,000 playdates on January 10 followed by another expansion on January 17 for the Martin Luther King weekend holiday frame. Fisher's total stands at $3M.

Disney released the special edition of The Lion King on Christmas Day in 66 Imax theaters and grossed a terrific $1.8M over the three-day weekend. That gave the all-time biggest animated film a roaring $27,664 average. Over five days, the G-rated hit collected $2.8M.

Sony's Adaptation starring Nicolas Cage remained in 109 theaters and collected $1M, off 7%. With a solid average of $9,485 per location, the Spike Jonze pic has grossed $4.1M to date. Also flat versus last weekend was Paramount's drug saga Narc which nabbed $63,675 from the same six sites for a $10,612 average. Cume is $185,605. Both films go wide on January 10.

The Hindi-language actioner Kaante shot up $211,305 from 29 sites in its second weekend for a $7,286 average. Released by Media Partners and Bollywood Pictures, the film has upped its ten-day cume to $812,494.

Focus Features unveiled the Holocaust pic The Pianist in six theaters and grossed $111,261 for a sturdy $18,543 average.

The top ten films grossed $149.1M which was up 9% from last year when The Fellowship of the Ring remained at number one with $38.7M. 2000 had a four-day New Year's holiday frame which cannot be compared to.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which of next year's comic book films you want to see the most. In last week's survey, readers were asked if they thought Catch Me If You Can would open with at least $30M over five days. Of 2,498 responses, 67% correctly said Yes, while 33% thought No.

Compared to projections, The Lord of the Rings was very close to my $46M three-day forecast, while Catch Me If You Can exceeded my $37M five-day prediction.

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.

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

# Title Dec 27 - 29 Dec 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers $ 48,875,549 $ 62,007,528 -21.2 3,622 2 $ 13,494 $ 200,058,231 New Line
2 Catch Me If You Can 30,082,000 3,156 1 9,532 48,680,000 DreamWorks
3 Two Weeks Notice 15,518,420 14,328,494 8.3 2,755 2 5,633 43,044,430 Warner Bros.
4 Maid in Manhattan 12,524,396 10,712,011 16.9 2,938 3 4,263 56,950,454 Sony
5 Gangs of New York 10,948,803 9,496,870 15.3 2,190 2 4,999 29,873,147 Miramax
6 Drumline 8,108,083 7,125,270 13.8 1,669 3 4,858 36,619,270 Fox
7 The Wild Thornberrys 7,364,432 6,013,847 22.5 3,012 2 2,445 18,418,284 Paramount
8 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 6,474,267 4,371,410 48.1 2,505 7 2,585 240,307,533 Warner Bros.
9 The Hot Chick 4,813,878 4,576,225 5.2 2,246 3 2,143 22,201,384 Buena Vista
10 Die Another Day 4,365,536 4,030,346 8.3 1,875 6 2,328 146,699,881 MGM
11 Star Trek: Nemesis 4,054,107 4,415,081 -8.2 2,642 3 1,534 33,846,500 Paramount
12 My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,760,697 1,461,534 88.9 951 37 2,903 222,517,469 IFC Films
13 Chicago 2,074,929 77 1 26,947 2,074,929 Miramax
14 The Santa Clause 2 2,070,255 3,204,145 -35.4 1,511 9 1,370 135,459,771 Buena Vista
15 Analyze That 2,068,396 2,385,371 -13.3 1,611 4 1,284 27,862,354 Warner Bros.
16 The Lion King Imax 1,825,849 66 1 27,664 2,789,969 Buena Vista
17 Antwone Fisher 1,801,384 210,013 757.7 191 2 9,431 3,001,346 Fox Searchlight
18 Treasure Planet 1,549,980 1,302,772 19.0 1,414 5 1,096 32,849,870 Buena Vista
19 Pinocchio 1,151,463 1,195 1 964 1,802,706 Miramax
20 Empire 1,066,370 1,382,630 -22.9 496 4 2,150 15,170,025 Universal
Top 5 $ 117,949,168 $ 103,670,173 13.8
Top 10 149,075,364 127,077,082 17.3
Top 20 169,498,794 140,008,687 21.1

Last Updated : December 30, 2002 at 6:00PM EST