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WEEKEND BOXOFFICE REPORT: 'Monsters' Makes Animated History, Capturing No. 1 With $63.5 Million; Jet Li's 'The One' Takes No. 2

5 Nov, 2001 By: Staff Reporter

Thanks to Pixar Animation Studios, the Walt Disney Co. has let a monster hit out of the closet. Opening with a staggering estimate of $63.5 million, Monsters, Inc., distributed by Disney's Buena Vista, easily scared away the competition to take the weekend's top spot, helping to lift the domestic box office to more than $140 million in ticket sales.

The sensational debut of Monsters marked the biggest opening for an animated film and the largest November debut in box office history. Its debut gross topped the $57.4 million racked up in 1999 by Toy Story 2, another CG-animated title from Buena Vista and Pixar, which previously held both records. Toy Story 2 enjoyed the added benefit of debuting during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Even as Monsters dominated the box office -- its gross accounted for a substantial 46% of the total for the top 12 pictures, and its per-theater average was a sterling $19,617 -- two other films debuted in wide release and contributed their fair share to the weekend's stellar performance.

Sony's The One fared better than anticipated as the Jet Li starrer debuted strongly in the second spot with an estimated $20 million. The sci-fi actioner from Revolution Studios delivered the biggest-ever opening for Li in a starring vehicle, topping Warner Bros.' 2000 release Romeo Must Die, which debuted with $18 million.

Paramount's Domestic Disturbance starring John Travolta landed in the third spot, bowing with an estimated $14.5 million. The opening for the thriller, helmed by Harold Becker, was lower than that of Travolta's previous film, Warners' June release Swordfish, which opened with $18.1 million.

The previous weekend's top two films slipped to the fourth and fifth slots, respectively. Universal's K-PAX, the previous weekend's No. 1 film, grossed an estimated $10.7 million, down 38% during its sophomore frame, bringing its 10-day cume to about $32.1 million. Warner Bros.' Thirteen Ghosts conjured up an estimated $8 million, slipping a discouraging 48% from its debut, and has garnered about $27.8 million after 10 days in release.

The Monsters mash led the weekend box office in North America to uncharted territory. The frame racked up box office at a pace usually seen much later in the month, around the Thanksgiving period. The estimated total for the top 12 films is a stunning $136.8 million, up an extraordinary 42% from the comparable weekend a year earlier. The Hollywood Reporter projects the total for all films this weekend in the low- to mid-$140 million range.

The tremendous opening for Monsters left even Disney executives searching for superlatives. "This is indescribable; there are no words," Buena Vista Pictures Marketing president Oren Aviv said. "If ever there was a way to kick off the holidays, this is it."

The film's strength, Aviv said, was that it played strongly across the board. "These numbers are only achievable when you're playing to every demographic," Aviv said. "I think audiences were wanting a film that everyone could go and see, and everyone could enjoy regardless of age. It's all about the movie; it's a tribute to the film and its playability."

Monsters generated mostly positive critical reviews, and Pixar's films have enjoyed a solid track record at the box office. "They're the best; they're fantastic partners," Aviv said of Pixar. Toy Story (1995) and A Bug's Life (1998) took in nearly $360 million each at the worldwide box office, and Toy Story 2 moved that bar to nearly $485 million.

Other records that Monster chewed up during the weekend: The $26.6 million generated Saturday was the second-biggest tally for that day of the week, behind Universal's May release The Mummy Returns ($26.9 million), and the third-biggest single day in history. Monsters notched the largest debut for the comparable weekend, topping Sony's 2000 release Charlie's Angels ($40.1 million); the second-best opening for Buena Vista, behind the four-day Memorial Day gross of Pearl Harbor ($75.2 million); and the eighth-biggest debut in box office history, including four-day holiday frames.

Likewise, executives at Sony were pleased with the solid opening for One.

"What helped us beat expectations was the great special effects, in addition to the action," said Jeff Blake, president of worldwide distribution and marketing at Columbia Pictures. "And the PG-13 rating helped us expand our audience." Li's other starring films have carried an R rating. One carried a negative cost of about $49 million.

Blake also commented on the marketplace's weekend performance. "The fact that the market could expand to accommodate something for everyone was the key to everybody doing well," Blake said. "When you've got pictures that generate great interest, like this weekend, I think clearly the audience is willing to come out."

As expected, the audience for One was dominated by males (60%) and was young (40% under age 21).

Domestic played predominantly to older females as 73% of the audience was over 25 and 58% were female.

Several films enjoyed promising debuts in limited release, and there were some solid expansions.

USA Films' The Man Who Wasn't There debuted with a solid estimate of $673,440 from 38 venues, an encouraging $17,722 per-theater average. The deadpan film noir, helmed by Joel Coen and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand and James Gandolfini, has taken in about $693,983 since its Wednesday opening.

Amelie, a French-language import from Miramax, debuted in three locations and took home an estimated $140,000, averaging a stunning $46,667 per theater. The romantic comedy, starring Audrey Tautou and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a huge hit in its native France.

New Line's Life as a House added 59 theaters during its second weekend, bringing its total to 88, and grossed an estimated $674,000. The drama averaged $7,659 per theater and has grossed about $1.1 million to date.

Fox Searchlight's Waking Life amassed an estimated $273,000 from 57 locations during its third frame, averaging $4,789 per theater. The cume to date is an estimated $749,000.

Paramount Classics' Focus, also in its third weekend, expanded to the top 10 markets and 32 sites (up from 30 a week earlier) and tallied an estimated $110,000. The drama averaged $3,438 per theater and has accumulated about $180,119 since its release.

National box office during the week ending Nov. 1 rose a moderate 8% from the comparable seven-day period a year earlier ($114.5 million vs. $106.5 million), and the year-to-date cume is holding steady with a nearly 10% advantage on the 2000 pace ($6.60 billion vs. $6.01 billion). Estimated year-to-date admissions are hovering about 5% ahead of last year's pace.

--Brian Fuson

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