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Final boxoffice: 'Lemony' fresh with $30.1 mil

Paramount's "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" debuted with $30.1 million to take first place at the boxoffice on the weekend before Christmas, according to Monday's final figures. The Jim Carrey starrer, based on the books by Daniel Handler and directed by Brad Silberling, enticed families away from shopping and other holiday festivities to deliver the biggest opening in December for a family-targeted feature.

Warner Bros. Pictures' "Ocean's Twelve" was swimming in the second spot with $18.1 million, down a steep 54% in its sophomore frame. The 10-day total for the A-list ensemble sequel, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Matt Damon, is $68.5 million, a slim $3 million behind "Ocean's Eleven" for the same period.

Sony's "Spanglish," a James L. Brooks-directed comedy-drama starring Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni, debuted in the third spot with a moderate $8.8 million, a little below expectations. But on the plus side, most of Brooks' films have tended to have a much higher multiple than the average picture. "As Good as It Gets" opened to $12 million and ended at $147 million -- a multiple of 12, where the industry average hovers around three.

20th Century Fox's "Flight of the Phoenix" was the session's only other wide release. But the remake of the 1965 film, starring Dennis Quaid and Giovanni Ribisi, never achieved liftoff at the boxoffice as the adventure film opened to a discouraging $5 million and eighth place. It was a mostly older, male audience, which gave the film solid marks, according to exit polls. Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution, said that business for the film should pick up considerably next week.

Warners' enduring "The Polar Express" continues to stay on an admirable track at the boxoffice, dipping a scant 12% this weekend while losing nearly 400 theaters in its sixth session. The animated Christmas-themed film placed fourth with $8.4 million, advancing the cume-to-date to $123.4 million.

The second weekend for New Line Cinema's "Blade: Trinity" sliced off $6.8 million, down a sharp 58%. The horror-actioner, starring Wesley Snipes, has brought in $35.6 million to date.

Sony's "Closer" moved into wide release this weekend with the addition of 468 theaters, taking the count to 1,090 on its third session. The Mike Nichols-helmed ensemble drama placed ninth with $3.4 million, taking the cume to $18.8 million.

Likewise, Miramax's "Finding Neverland" added 448 locations for a total of 985 venues and grossed $2 million to place 12th. The Johnny Depp starrer has found $16.9 million so far.

While on an individual film basis there might have been some things to feel merry about at theaters, this weekend's business overall and compared to last year was more like a lump of coal in the proverbial boxoffice stocking.

The estimated total for the top 12 films this weekend was $100.4 million, down a steep 25% from the comparable frame a year earlier. The problem was there was nothing comparable in the marketplace to New Line's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which generated a staggering $72.6 million during the same weekend last year. The Hollywood Reporter projects the total for all films this weekend to be in the mid- to high-$100 million area, compared to last year's $141.3 million.

In the world of limited releases, two high-profile films sparked some excitement this weekend. Miramax's "The Aviator," from director Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, got off the ground with a strong start in 40 locations and grossed $893,066. The Howard Hughes biopic, which has a running time of nearly three hours, averaged a promising $21,782 per theater and goes into 1,700-1,800 locations on Christmas Day.

The audience for "Aviator" was split equally between males and females, with 65-70% in the 25-49 age range and gave the film mostly positive grades, according to a Miramax spokesperson. Warners and Miramax are distribution partners on the film in North America.

The Clint Eastwood-helmed "Million Dollar Baby" from Warners debuted with $179,953 from eight locations this weekend and has earned $235,407 since its release Wednesday. The well-reviewed drama, which has five Golden Globe nominations under its belt, stars Hilary Swank and averaged a stout $22,494 per theater. "Baby" expands to 12 markets Jan. 7.

Regarding the weekend's top film, "We're ecstatic with the opening," Paramount president of distribution Wayne Lewellen said. "It launches the picture at a level going into the holidays that says we should be very successful." "Lemony," co-produced with DreamWorks and Nickelodeon Movies, had a reported budget of about $140 million.

Lewellen noted that films of the family genre released during this time of year tend to have a multiple of four to eight times their opening weekend. "We positioned 'Lemony' to open on this weekend so we could take advantage of the available family audience during the holiday period," he said. On Monday, 61% of schools will be out, with that number increasing with each successive day before Christmas.

The audience for the PG-rated "Lemony" proved to be slightly more female than male, with 58% comprising the former. About 30% of the audience was younger than 12; 30% were parents; and the remaining 40% were older than 12 and nonparents, according to Lewellen.

As for "Spanglish," "It's definitely in the range we anticipated," Sony Pictures Releasing president Rory Bruer said. "If you take a look at the multiples on these types of pictures -- anywhere from eight to 10 times the opening -- we're in good shape."

The PG-13-rated "Spanglish" skewed female with 55%, while 56% of patrons were younger than 35. The picture generated a solid 87% in the top two boxes and 72% in the definite recommend category.

Other noteworthy points among limited releases, Lions Gate's "Beyond the Sea" opened in six locations in Los Angeles and New York and hit the beach with an estimated $48,000. The Bobby Darin biopic -- directed and written by and starring Kevin Spacey -- averaged a hopeful $8,000 per theater and goes into about 300 theaters Dec. 29.

Fine Line's "The Sea Inside," while receiving recognition from award nominations, generated little enthusiasm in theaters with an estimated $55,000 from 23 locations. The Spanish-language drama about euthanasia, starring Javier Bardem, averaged a disappointing $2,391 per theater.

The Wes Anderson-helmed "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," from Buena Vista, had a strong second weekend. The Bill Murray starrer was in two locations and grossed $98,787, averaging a lively $49,394 per theater. The cume-to-date for the comedy, which goes into national release Saturday, is about $311,689.

Warner Independent Pictures' "A Very Long Engagement" was in 24 venues in its fourth weekend, up 20 from a week earlier, and grossed $239,796. The French import, which expands to about 166 runs Wednesday, averaged a solid $9,992 per theater and has amassed $550,659 so far.

The national boxoffice for the week ending Dec. 16 was down 14% from the comparable seven-day period last year ($147.3 million vs. $171.1 million), as the year-to-date total tenuously holds on to a slim 2% increase ($8.81 billion vs. $8.67 billion). Estimated admissions for the year-to-date are now 2% behind last year at this time.

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Copyright 2004 The Hollywood Reporter

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