'Grinch' steals the show with whopping box-office debut

— The Grinch is having a green Christmas.

Jim Carrey's live-action version of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" took in a whopping $55.1 million in its first three days, according to studio estimates Sunday.

It was a record for a nonsequel or prequel, and if the estimates hold when final numbers are reported today, it would be the fifth-best box-office debut ever.

The animated "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie" opened in second place with $23 million, about $4 million less than the first "Rugrats" grossed in its first weekend two years ago.

"Charlie's Angels," the No. 1 movie the last two weekends, slipped to third place with $13.7 million, pushing its total to $93.6 million.

Premiering at No. 4 was Arnold Schwarzenegger's cloning thriller "The 6th Day," which grossed $13.2 million.

"Bounce," a romance starring Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, opened at No. 5 with $11.5 million.

The overall box office soared, with the top 12 movies grossing $148.3 million, up 42 percent from the same weekend last year.

This week brings two more big films, "102 Dalmatians" and "Unbreakable," which reunites writer-director M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis, from the supernatural sensation "The Sixth Sense." Many studio executives and analysts expect the holdover films and new entries to propel the box office to a record Thanksgiving weekend topping last year's $225.5 million.

"The Grinch," directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer, received mixed reviews, with some critics calling it overblown and uncreative and others praising the elaborate production and Carrey's manic performance as the holiday boogeyman.

Reviews did not matter, though, considering the built-in audience of fans who adore the Dr. Seuss book and TV cartoon, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box office earnings. Distributor Universal also generated substantial hype by blanketing the country with a Grinch marketing blitz, he added.

"This is a family film that was impervious to any critical thrashings that it received," Dergarabedian said. "The Grinch was everywhere. Especially if you're a kid, there's no way you could not know that the Grinch was coming to town."

In limited release, the critical favorite "You Can Count On Me" continued to do well in its second weekend. The movie expanded to 35 theaters in the top 10 markets, up from eight cinemas, and grossed $320,000 for a $9,143 average.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.:

1. "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," $55.1 million.

2. "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie," $23 million.

3. "Charlie's Angels," $13.7 million.

4. "The 6th Day," $13.2 million.

5. "Bounce," $11.5 million.

6. "Men of Honor," $8 million.

7. "Little Nicky," $7.7 million.

8. "Meet the Parents," $6.4 million.

9. "The Legend of Bagger Vance," $2.9 million.

10. "Red Planet," $2.7 million.

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