Box Office: Hannibal Takes Record-Sized Bite

Hannibal Lecter is back with a vengeance after a 10-year absence. As predicted, Hannibal, the long-awaited sequel to 1991's The Silence of the Lambs, took an enormous bite out of the box office over the weekend, but the size of that bite, an estimated $58 million, exceeded many analysts' predictions.

If that estimate holds up when final figures are released Monday, Hannibal will have shattered several records in one vicious swoop. It's now the third-biggest opening of all time (behind The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which opened in 1997 with $72.1 million, and Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, which opened in 1999 with $64.8 million). The Ridley Scott-directed sequel also now rates just behind The Phantom Menace as the biggest opening on a non-holiday.

It's the biggest opening ever for 63-year-old star Anthony Hopkins (leaving 1998's The Mask of Zorro in the dust). It also becomes the biggest opening for an R-rated film (beating Scary Movie's $42.3 million debut last year), the biggest February opening (last held by Scream 3, which opened with $34.7 million), and the best opening ever for MGM.

Overall box office returns are also up 42 percent over the same period last year, and nearly 50 percent compared to last week, thanks to Hannibal.

The film, based on Thomas Harris' third book about Lecter, has been roundly criticized for its penultimate scene, involving a very unusual dinner with the good doctor (Hopkins), FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, who replaced Silence star Jodie Foster), and her sexist boss (Ray Liotta).

Silence swept the Oscars with awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay — it looks like Hannibal may have to settle for mere box-office glory since critical and popular reaction has been decidedly mixed for the grisly horror film.

Life Is Beautiful for Crouching Tiger Also setting records this weekend is Oscar hopeful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which has now surpassed Life Is Beautiful as the top-earning foreign film of all time. In 10 weeks, the Ang Lee-directed martial arts romance has racked up $60 million and shows no signs of stopping. This weekend, it climbed up one spot from fifth place to fourth place with $5.1 million.

Hannibal's Weak CompetitionThe only other new film this weekend, Saving Silverman, offered up some comedy counterprogramming, but not much competition, to Hannibal. Few moviegoers took the bait as Silverman bowed in third place with a mere $7.4 million. The poorly reviewed film stars Jason Biggs as a Neil Diamond-lovin' schmuck who must be rescued from his cruel girlfriend (Amanda Peet) by buddies Steve Zahn and Jack Black. The Wedding Planner, which held the No. 1 slot for two weeks, fell to second place with $7.8 million. After three weeks, the Jennifer Lopez vehicle has earned $38 million.

Last week's two debuts, Valentine and Head Over Heels, which both served as lightweight warm-ups to this week's Hannibal headliner, took painful dives in their second week. Valentine fell from second to eighth place with a 62 percent drop-off, while Heels plunged from seventh to 11th place with a 46 percent drop-off.

The Top 10 films for Feb. 9-11, 2001:

Hannibal, $58 million The Wedding Planner, $7.8 million Saving Silverman, $7.4 million Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, $5.1 million Cast Away, $5 million Save the Last Dance, $4.8 million Traffic, $4.4 million Valentine, $3.8 million Chocolat, $3.1 million O Brother, Where Art Thou?, $3 million

Final figures will be released Monday.

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