How 'The Grinch' saved Christmas

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The Grinch is producing unexpected greenbacks for the entire movie industry's holiday season.

Universal Pictures' whopping $171 million hit, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," is lifting the movie industry with a sharp increase in box-office revenue. But the question is whether "The Grinch's" benevolence can continue for the remainder of the holidays.

"The Grinch," from Ron Howard and Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment, and starring Jim Carrey, has been part of a wave of end-of-the-year movies that, so far, has saved the movie business from having a down year.

With "The Grinch," Walt Disney's "Unbreakable," Sony Pictures' "The Sixth Day," Paramount's "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie," and Walt Disney's "102 Dalmations," the holiday season so far is up 14% in box office receipts at $541 million for the period that started Nov. 19, according to ACNielsen EDI, the box office data service. For the year, studios are collectively slightly higher, up 0.3% (through Dec. 3) putting them at $6.695 billion.

"The Grinch," which opened Nov. 17, appeared to be a winner from the start, but historically, when big movies play at the same time they can erode each other's box office share.


However, that didn't happen this year. Marc Shmuger, president of marketing for Universal Pictures, said of the competition, "They came right at us. But [all these movies] are driving people to the box office. 'Unbreakable' is doing business; 'Rugrats' is doing business. Our competition underestimated the strength of our movie."

Through Dec. 3, ACNielsen EDI has put "The Grinch" at $171 million-well on its way to $250 million in U.S. ticket sales, which would make it the No. 1 box-office grossing movie of the year. "The Perfect Storm" currently has U.S. ticket sales of $182 million.

Universal took a risk by debuting "The Grinch" before Thanksgiving; the word "Christmas" in the title can be a turnoff to movie-goers who have yet to experience Thanksgiving. This is partly why Universal went with the shorthand title, "The Grinch," in much of its marketing materials. With the shorter moniker, the movie looks likely to stretch out its playability up until New Year's. That name also gave the movie an edgier feel.

"The Grinch" benefited from a $75 million in paid media from consumer products partners. These included The Kellogg Co., Nabisco, Coca-Cola's Sprite, Wendy's International, Toys "R" Us, and the U.S. Postal Service, which is doing its first-ever movie promotion.

These efforts have boosted Universal to the No. 2 spot as the best box-office grossing studio of the year with $949 million so far, or 14.2% share of the market, according to ACNielsen EDI. It is just behind Walt Disney, which has $996 million, or 14.6% of the market. Universal is up 7% overall so far.

But there's more work ahead. The next batch of movies, dominated by male stars and targeted for Oscar contention, is about to hit the market, including Tom Hanks in "Cast Away," Kevin Costner in "Thirteen Days," Nicolas Cage in "The Family Man" and others. Can the market support these somewhat smaller films? "Absolutely," said Tom Borys, president of ACNielsen EDI. "There is plenty of money left. "

Copyright December 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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