A Golden ‘Ring’

"Catch Me If You Can" couldn't catch up with "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

The "Lord of the Rings" sequel took in $48.9 million during its second weekend for a 12-day gross of $200.1 million, becoming one of the speediest films ever to cross the $200 million mark, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Its weekend average of $13,508 per theater had "Two Towers" fulfilling predictions that it would outperform its predecessor, last year's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."

"This film is the story of the holiday season," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "To say it's this generation's `Star Wars' is almost an understatement."

Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life '60s con man Frank Abagnale Jr., debuted at No. 2, capturing $30 million in its first weekend and $48.6 million since opening Wednesday.

"Catch Me If You Can" also stars Tom Hanks as an FBI agent pursuing Abagnale, who became a master check forger and posed as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer while still in his teens. Playing in 3,156 theaters, it averaged $9,506 per screen.

Slipping to No. 3 was the Sandra Bullock-Hugh Grant romance "Two Weeks Notice," which earned $16.1 million in its second weekend for a total of $43.6 million. Jennifer Lopez's "Maid in Manhattan" was a close fourth with $13 million in its third weekend and an overall take of $57.4 million.

The four films, joined by a year-end rush of limited releases aiming for Academy Award consideration, were the stars of the biggest post-Christmas box office weekend ever, capping a year that's set records for tickets sales.

Already, box office receipts for 2002 have surpassed $9 billion, an increase of about 10 percent over last year's total. Movie theater attendance for the year is expected to end 5 percent higher than last year, Dergarabedian said.

"It's a great time to be a moviegoer and a great time to be releasing films," he said. "When you look at the box office grosses and the attendance figures, it tells you that going to the movies was a big part of people's entertainment."

The weekend held some bad news for studios. "Pinocchio," Robert Benigni's new live-action version of the Disneyfied Italian folk tale, took in just $1.1 million in 1,195 theaters, a per-screen average of $954,000. Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax, said the poor showing may have been because the film was made in Italian and dubbed into English.

"We are not happy with the performance theatrically, but from a financial perspective we are fine," Sands said, noting that Miramax spent $21 million on "Pinocchio." "We knew it was a risk dubbing it and taking it to a mass audience."

The studio was holding out more hope for Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York," a dark, R-rated epic that contrasts sharply with the usual lighthearted holiday fare.

Expanding to 2,190 theaters in its second weekend, "Gangs" earned $11.2 million, a $5,114 per-theater average that gave it a fifth-place finish at the box office. Overall, it has grossed $30.1 million.

"It's doing exactly what we expected," Sands said. "We are hopeful that the film will get Academy Award nominations, and we saved quite a bit of our media to run in January and February to take advantage of that."

In limited release, the musical "Chicago," starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger, danced away with $2.1 million in 77 theaters for an impressive $27,300 per-theater average. The film, also distributed by Miramax, goes into wider release in January.

"We were only limited by seats. We are basically selling out everywhere," Sands said.

The weekend brought a flurry of other small-release debuts trying for critical acclaim and Academy Award notice.

Among them "The Hours" grossed $337,000 in only 11 theaters for a whopping $30,636 average. The drama stars Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf and Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep as two women influenced by the writer's work.

The Holocaust drama "The Pianist" opened on just six screens and pulled in $104,051, or $17,342 per venue.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," $48.9 million.
2. "Catch Me If You Can," $30 million.
3. "Two Weeks Notice," $16.1 million.
4. "Maid in Manhattan," $13 million.
5. "Gangs of New York," $11.2 million.
6. "Drumline," $8.4 million.
7. "The Wild Thornberrys Movie," $7.4 million.
8. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," $6.5 million.
9. "The Hot Chick," $4.8 million.
10. "Die Another Day," $4.5 million.

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Last Updated: Dec 29, 2002

 Monday, December 30, 2002
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