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'Monsters' Devour Competition

"Monsters Inc." scared away the weekend competition.

The film about a monster factory that collects kids' screams recorded the best North American debut ever for an animated film and the sixth-best opening of all time, bringing in $63.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"Monsters Inc.," the latest film from the Disney/Pixar partnership that produced the "Toy Story" movies and "A Bug's Life," far outdistanced those earlier hits.

The previous top opening for an animated film was the $57.4 million recorded by 1999's "Toy Story 2," which also held the previous record for best November opening.

"There's something about the Pixar/Disney partnership whereby the creative forces behind these films really know what kids want to see," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office. "Everything that they do with these films seems to exactly capture what kids are looking for."

Opening in second place over the Friday to Sunday weekend was "The One," Jet Li's latest action film. The film brought in dlrs 20 million, the strongest opening to date for a film starring Li. Unlike his earlier "Romeo Must Die" and "Kiss of the Dragon," the film was rated PG-13, not R.

"Domestic Disturbance", a thriller starring John Travolta, debuted in third place, bringing in $14.5 million.

The openings rang in the holiday movie season in decisive fashion. Receipts for the top 12 movies were up nearly 90 percent over last weekend, and 44 percent over the same weekend last year.

"In light of the tragedy of Sept. 11, the box office has just been incredible. People want an escape," Dergarabedian said. "We're on record pace for the year."

"Monsters" is the sort of movie Disney typically would release right around Thanksgiving, but the studio moved it to early November hoping to cash in before the "Harry Potter" juggernaut hits the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The movie features the voices of John Goodman as the gorilla-like Sully and Billy Crystal as his pal Mike Wazowski, an eyeball with arms and legs. Havoc ensues when Goodman's character accidentally lets a little girl wander through her closet into the monster world, where human children are considered toxic.

Disney officials were ecstatic Sunday at the film's success.

"It's just fabulous," said Disney distribution chief Chuck Viane. "We knew it was good, but breaking records - you very seldom expect that."

The take for "Monsters, Inc." easily outdistanced the dlrs 42.4 million DreamWorks' animated "Shrek" brought in on its opening weekend in May. But "Shrek" remained strong for weeks, and at $267 million is the year's highest-grossing movie so far.

Two films did very well opening in limited release.

The whimsical French-language romance "Amelie," a big hit at Cannes, stars Audrey Tautou as a quirky woman who sets out to put some meaning and love into the lives of those around her. It was on only three screens - two in New York anone in Los Angeles - and took in a total of $140,000, an outstanding $46,667 per screen average.

Opening on 38 screens, the Coen brothers' latest film, "The Man Who Wasn't There," brought in $673,300 over the weekend for a $17,718 per screen average.

Jack Foley, president of distribution for USA Films, said the studio is being cautious about bringing out the black-and-white film starring Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand. It's in 17 markets now and will expand to about 30 next weekend, he said.

"We're letting those who believe spread the word, and there are a lot of believers," Foley said.

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

  1. "Monsters Inc.," $63.5 million.
  2. "The One," $20 million.
  3. "Domestic Disturbance," $14.5 million.
  4. "K-Pax," $10.7 million.
  5. "Thirteen Ghosts," $8 million.
  6. "Riding in Cars with Boys," $4.5 million.
  7. "From Hell," $3.7 million.
  8. "Training Day," $3.2 million.
  9. "Bandits," $3 million.
  10. "Serendipity," $2.5 million.

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