Universal Pictures and exhibitors across North America breathed a sigh of relief over the weekend as Imagine Entertainment's Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas broke records with a $55.1m gross at a staggering 3,127 theatres (and on over 4,200 screens).

The movie, a lavish live action retelling of the children's classic directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey as The Grinch, was Universal's great hope for the holiday season and its success is the perfect seal to a banner year for the company which has had five consecutive number one hits in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Bring It On, The Watcher and Meet The Parents.

It is now the biggest non-sequel opening ever, the sixth biggest opening ever, the second biggest Universal Pictures opening, the second biggest November opening ever (after last year's Toy Story 2) and the best opening yet for both Howard and Carrey.

The extent of The Grinch's success comes as somewhat of a surprise in the light of mainly vitriolic reviews from critics. Clearly the film was review-proof and for beleagured exhibitors, it offered a major boost in a lacklustre year. This weekend was up a massive 39% on the same weekend last year when The World Is Not Enough and Sleepy Hollow were the new openers.

Nor was the weekend just about the Grinch. Paramount's sequel Rugrats In Paris: The Movie took a mighty $23m in its first three days, some $4.3m less than its predecessor The Rugrats Movie at Thanksgiving 1998, but still impressive. It is the second hit this year for Nickelodeon Movies, Paramount's sister company in the Viacom group of companies, after the spring's Snow Day.

While Charlie's Angels slipping to three with $13.7m in its third weekend, two new films opened in the fourth and fifth slots - Columbia's The Sixth Day with Arnold Schwarzenegger took a so-so $13.2m on 2,516 theatres while Miramax Films' romance Bounce with Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow took $11.5m on 1,918 theatres for a higher screen average of $6,000 per theatre.

Meanwhile New Line's Little Nicky, a costly star vehicle for Adam Sandler, looks like the first major casualty of the season, dropping 52% in its second weekend to take just $7.7m in its second weekend. After ten days, it is still some $14m short of what Sandler's last film Big Daddy took in its first three. And Warner's Red Planet plummeted to a mere $2.8m in its second weekend. The $80m sci-fi epic will struggle to gross more than $20m.

With Thanksgiving on Thursday and new openers mid-week including 102 Dalmatians and Unbreakable from Buena Vista, the upward trend looks set to continue.

Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date
1 (-) Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Universal) UIP $55.1m --
2 (-) Rugrats In Paris (Paramount) UIP $23m --
3 (1) Charlie's Angels (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $13.7m $93.6m
4 (-) The Sixth Day (Columbia) Columbia TriStar/Phoenix $13.2m --
5 (-) Bounce (Miramax) Miramax International $11.5m --
6 (3) Men Of Honor (20th Century Fox) Fox International $8m $25m
7 (2) Little Nicky (New Line) New Line International $7.7m $26.5m
8 (4) Meet The Parents (Universal) DreamWorks/UIP $6.4m $138.6m
9 (6) The Legend Of Bagger Vance (DreamWorks SKG) Fox International $2.9m $25.3m
10 (5) Red Planet (Warner Bros) Warner Bros/Village Roadshow $2.8m $13.4m