‘101 Dalmatians’ Nabs Top Spot


The conniving Cruella outmaneuvered the brutal Borg to catapult “101 Dalmatians” to the top--and potentially record-breaking--spot at the box office over the holiday weekend. The spotted pups brought in a projected all-time Thanksgiving weekend high of $46 million, edging out the most successful installment of the “Star Trek” series.

The Disney live-action remake of the animated classic from 1961 opened Wednesday and appeared to beat the former record-holder, “Back to the Future Part II,” which made $43 million on Thanksgiving weekend in 1989.

The dazzling success of the family film--fueled by the powerhouse Disney marketing machine--came as no surprise to most in the industry. “Everyone expected ‘101’ to be the No. 1 movie,” an executive from a rival studio said.


Disney executives attribute the success of the movie--despite rather lackluster reviews--to a combination of nostalgia for the original, good timing, an elaborate marketing and publicity campaign and a larger-than-life villain in Glenn Close’s Cruella DeVil.

“ ‘101 Dalmatians’ has always been one of the most popular movies in our library,” said Dick Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. “Everyone has had fond memories of the original. Also, sometimes movies come along at the right time and place and take on a sort of life of their own. This is one of those: It was the right time, the right mood. It strikes a chord that families want to see. There have been other movies that are fabulous that don’t always hit.”

Cook credited Close’s wickedly camp portrayal for a large part of the audience response. Close’s DeVil “is one of the greatest villains of all time. Everybody responds to her, regardless of age. She clearly adds to the appeal and, obviously, so do the puppies,” added Cook, referring to the several hundred Dalmatians used in the film.

He also pointed to the heightened sense of anticipation for the movie, which undoubtedly was helped by the broadest-ever marketing campaign for a live-action film--which one insider estimated at $30 million to $40 million--supplemented by about $150 million from cross-promotional tie-ins with other companies. “It’s amazing what they’ve done,” said an executive at a rival studio.

The movie, directed by Stephen Herek and written by John Hughes, was made on a budget of $40 million, according to studio officials, considerably less than some of its recent animated Disney counterparts.

Its $13.3-million box-office tally on Friday alone was a record for a single day during Thanksgiving weekend, according to Disney executives. The previous single-day record over the holiday weekend had been established by Disney’s “Toy Story,” which last year made $11.5 million in one day.


The runner-up in the holiday weekend top 10 was “Star Trek: First Contact,” which made $25.3 million over the five days, bringing its total to a projected $60.7 million in only its second week out.

Warner Bros.’ Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes caper “Space Jam,” which is going after an audience similar to the one for “101 Dalmatians,” also has benefited from elaborate marketing and product tie-in efforts. It came in third with an estimated $18.1 million, netting $67.9 million in the three weeks since it opened.

The Mel Gibson thriller “Ransom” was in fourth place with $17.6 million. The film, made by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment and distributed by Disney, passed the $100-million mark Saturday and was expected to edge up to $105 million by the end of the weekend.

On its heels was the poorly reviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas movie “Jingle All the Way,” which made $17.5 million and brought in $31 million in 10 days.

In sixth place, Barbra Streisand’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces” made $8.3 million over the five days, having reached $33.7 million since opening three weeks ago.

The epic romantic drama “The English Patient” made $5.9 million over the long weekend, earning $9.6 million to date and placing seventh. “Set It Off,” “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet” and “Sleepers” came in eighth through 10th respectively with totals of $4.6 million, $3.5 million and $1.4 million.


“Shine,” the much-acclaimed film about an Australian pianist who battles madness, was not in the top 10 but had the highest per-screen average of the long weekend, making $270,000 in just 10 theaters in four cities, averaging about $27,000 per theater.

[“101 Dalmatians’ ”] $13.3-million box-office tally on Friday alone was a record for a single day during Thanksgiving weekend, according to Disney executives.