‘Monsters’ Scares Up Some Big Business


The 2001 holiday movie season got off to a sensational start with the release of Disney/Pixar’s computer-animated “Monsters, Inc.,” which broke every record for an animated film, grossing an estimated $63.5 million in 3,237 movie theaters. That outdid “Toy Story 2,” which launched in 1999 with $57.3 million.

“Monsters, Inc.” is Disney’s best debut, the largest November opening of all time and the sixth-best opening ever.

Not even the Arizona-New York World Series finale seems to have put a crimp in theatrical attendance. Thus far, moviegoing remains a haven for a nervous nation in the wake of terrorist attacks and biological warfare threats, and Pixar head Steve Jobs said that “Monsters, Inc.'s” “message of overcoming fear may have proven to be especially timely.”

Based on the estimated $136.7 million taken in by the top 12 films, ticket sales surged a remarkable 43% ahead of the same weekend last year, according to Exhibitor Relations. Even taking inflation into account, that’s almost a 40% rise in attendance over the similar weekend last year, when “Charlie’s Angels” led the pack with a $40-million debut.

“Monsters, Inc.” debuted on Friday to a heavy $17.8 million, indicating strong appeal to adults who pay full admission, according to Disney senior distribution executive Chuck Viane, who said that even 10 and 11 p.m. shows were often sold out. Ticket sales on Saturday were $26.6 million, just shy of the single best Saturday ever (“The Mummy Returns” edged it out, bringing in $26.9 million in May).


The adult crossover appeal of “Monsters” is vital for the film. Disney released it early in the season to get out of the way of the anticipated 3,000-pound gorilla, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which is expected to rock the movie world on Nov. 16 and possibly challenge the opening weekend record of $72.1 million set by “The Lost World” in 1997. By getting a jump on “Potter,” the Disney/Pixar animated film should be well past the $100-million mark by Nov. 16 and cruise through the Thanksgiving weekend, which usually delivers five of the most heavily attended moviegoing days of the year.

For Disney, whose last $100-million-plus animated film was “Dinosaur,” back in May 2000, the fruitful relationship with Pixar continues unabated despite some reported friction between the two companies. The two “Toy Story” mega-hits and “A Bug’s Life” have brought in more than $1 billion total at the box office. Jobs says that “Monsters” benefited from the high satisfaction level on those past collaborative efforts, building on the strength of Disney’s marketing and the Pixar brand name.

While it may not have broken any records, the Jet Li sci-fi action film “The One” cornered the young-male action market with an estimated $20 million in 2,894 theaters.

The weekend’s other major debut, “Domestic Disturbance,” starring John Travolta, managed a respectable $14.5 million in 2,910 venues. Though Paramount is usually adept at selling potboiler thrillers (“Kiss the Girls,” “The General’s Daughter,” which also starred Travolta), “Domestic Disturbance” was harmed by tepid reviews and played mainly to an older female audience, which may be getting weary of this genre.

Among specialized movies, USA Films launched the Coen brothers’ “The Man Who Wasn’t There” to a large $673,000 on only 38 screens, buoyed by generally glowing notices, particularly for its star, Billy Bob Thornton. And Miramax released the Gallic phenomenon “Amelie” to a buoyant $140,000 in just three theaters, more than $45,000 a screen.

The remaining movies in the top 10 were helped by the revitalized interest in movies. The sci-fi psychological drama “K-PAX,” which debuted at No. 1 in the previous weekend, dropped to fourth place with only a 38% fall-off in attendance, bringing in an anticipated $10.7 million in 2,545 screens for a solid 10-day total of $32 million. The Halloween thriller “Thirteen Ghosts” predictably lost almost half its audience in its second weekend, drooping to about $8 million in 2,781 theaters but still posting a fine $27.8 million in its first two weeks.

The Drew Barrymore comedy-drama “Riding in Cars With Boys” was having a bit of a bumpy ride, but it got a reprieve in its third weekend, as attendance held reasonably well with only a 27% drop from the previous weekend to an estimated $4.5 million. It has grossed $25 million so far. The Hughes brothers’ stylish gothic thriller “From Hell,” starring Johnny Depp, held on with a 38% drop in its third weekend from its second, at about $3.7 million in 1,945 theaters for a total to date just above $26 million. The Denzel Washington crime drama “Training Day” is still in the top 10 ($3.1 million in its fifth weekend in 1,805 theaters, for about $70 million so far). The comedic “Bandits,” with Bruce Willis, was down to $3 million in 2,116 theaters and a mediocre $36.4 million in its first month.

Rounding out the top 10 is the fall season’s hit romantic comedy, “Serendipity,” starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsdale, which keeps chugging along with $2.5 million estimated for its fifth weekend and almost $44 million so far.