LOS ANGELES -- Mel Gibson has stolen the top box office spot from the Grinch.
"What Women Want," Gibson's comedy about a chauvinistic ad exec who can suddenly read women's minds, debuted as the No. 1 movie, taking in $34.4 million over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.
It was Gibson's best opening ever and if the numbers hold when final figures come out Monday, it would be the best debut ever for a film premiering in December.
"This movie was definitely what women wanted and definitely what a lot of men were looking for this weekend," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office.
The goofy teen comedy "Dude, Where's My Car?", about a madcap search for a missing vehicle, opened in second place with $14 million.
"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the top film for four straight weekends, slipped to third with $13 million. The movie has grossed $212.9 million and will pass "Mission: Impossible 2" this week to become the year's highest-grossing flick.
Disney's animated buddy comedy "The Emperor's New Groove" opened at No. 4 with $10 million. The movie features the voices of David Spade, John Goodman and Eartha Kitt in the story of a smarmy king who's turned into a talking llama.
Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $98.6 million, up 33 percent from the same weekend last year. For the year, Hollywood's grosses are up about 2 percent.
A crush of big movies open over Christmas weekend, including Tom Hanks' "Cast Away," Nicolas Cage's "The Family Man," Sandra Bullock's "Miss Congeniality" and Matt Damon's "All the Pretty Horses." With such added fare, Hollywood should easily surpass last year's revenue record of $7.5 billion.
"What Women Want," co-starring Helen Hunt, exceeded the expectations of distributor Paramount, which had hoped the movie would gross a bit upward of $20 million.
"Traditionally, pre-Christmas is a slow time for adult movies because of all the shopping, parties and general holiday distractions," said Rob Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount's motion-picture group. "We felt we had a great movie with tremendous playability, and we thought we might get a jump on the other holiday movies. And we got a big jump."
Playing in 3,012 cinemas, the movie averaged an impressive $11,421 a theater, compared with $6,726 in 2,087 cinemas for "Dude, Where's My Car?" and $3,570 at 2,801 locations for "The Emperor's New Groove."
"Dude" distributor 20th Century Fox had planned to release the movie in February but moved it up after realizing the teen market was wide open right before Christmas, said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution.
"We just saw a vacuum in terms of teen movies," Snyder said.
Teen-agers turned out in surprisingly big numbers for G-rated "The Emperor's New Groove," making up 10 percent of the audience on opening night, said Disney distribution chief Chuck Viane. The wisecracking cartoon has gotten generally good reviews.
"I think it crossed into that part of the audience that normally doesn't come to animation because teens see the comedy in it," Viane said.
Two Oscar hopefuls opened to big audiences in limited release. "Pollock," a film biography of abstract painter Jackson Pollock, averaged $21,949 in two theaters. Director-star Ed Harris and co-star Marcia Gay Harden are getting awards buzz for their performances.
"Chocolat," starring Oscar winner Juliette Binoche and directed by past nominee Lasse Hallstrom, debuted with $160,000 in eight theaters for a $20,000 average. Binoche stars as a free-spirited chocolatier battling conservatism in a French village.
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," an action romance set in ancient China, continued its stellar performance, expanding to 31 theaters and grossing $1.1 million for a $35,484 average.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.