'Cast Away' Sails to First

For a castaway, Tom Hanks sure had a lot of company over the holiday weekend.

Hanks’ new movie Cast Away, in which he plays a man stranded for four years after a plane crash, took in $30.1 million this weekend to debut as the top film. The movie reunites Hanks and Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis.

Last weekend’s No. 1 movie, Mel Gibson’s What Women Want, slipped to second place with $16.3 million for the long weekend, pushing its total to $64.9 million in 10 days of release, according to studio estimates today.

Record Debut

Nicolas Cage’s comic fantasy The Family Man opened in third place with with $12.8 million. Cage plays an unmarried Wall Street broker who gets a chance to see what his life would be like had he wed his college sweetheart.

Cast Away became the biggest movie debut for a Christmas weekend, surpassing the $25.3 million that Robin Williams’ Patch Adams grossed in 1998. It was Hanks’ second-best opening, just $500,000 behind Saving Private Ryan.

Studio executives said today’s estimates took more guesswork than usual because it was hard to predict how many people would head to the movies on Christmas Eve.

“These numbers are etched in Jell-O,” said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released The Family Man.

Grinch Takes Home the Money

No. 4 was Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the year’s top-grossing movie. Its weekend take was $11.6 million, giving it a $232 million total.

The comedy Miss Congeniality, starring Sandra Bullock as a tomboy FBI agent who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant, premiered in fifth place with $10.3 million.

Ang Lee’s acclaimed adventure Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon jumped into the top 10. After two huge weekends in narrow release, the Mandarin-language film expanded to 141 theaters and grossed $2.8 million to finish at No. 10, averaging $19,748 per cinema.

Playing at 2,771 locations, Cast Away averaged $10,860 per theater.

Hungry For Hollywood Entertainment

Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $110.2 million, up 17 percent from the same weekend last year. By next weekend, Hollywood is expected to squeak past last year’s revenue record of $7.5 billion, though higher ticket prices mean movie attendance was down for 2000, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

The week or so before Christmas often is slow for theaters because people are busy with holiday shopping. But judging from big openings for What Women Want last weekend and now Cast Away, audiences seem hungry for the movies Hollywood is sending.

A rush of movies opened in limited release to qualify for the Oscars. The Coen brothers’ modern take on “The Odyssey,” O Brother, Where Art Thou?, did $150,000 in just five theaters for a hefty $30,000 average.

The Gift, a psychic thriller starring Cate Blanchett, debuted Wednesday in one Los Angeles theater, taking in $16,000 over its first five days.

Before Night Falls, a biography of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, opened with $60,000 in eight theaters for a $7,500 average. David Mamet’s Hollywood satire State and Main had a $400,000 debut in 72 cinemas for a $5,555 average.

Top Ten Holiday Weekend Movies 1. Cast Away — $30.1 million

2. What Women Want — $16.3 million

3. The Family Man — $12.8 million

4. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas — $11.6 million

5. Miss Congeniality — $10.3 million

6. The Emperor’s New Groove — $8 million

7. Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000 — $6.5 million

8. Dude, Where’s My Car? — $4.5 million

9. Vertical Limit — $4.4 million.

10. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — $2.8 million

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures for the long Christmas weekend are to be released Tuesday.