HOLLYWOOD -- Military-courtroom drama 'A Few Good Men' easily commanded the top spot at the pre-holiday box office, with $15.5 million at 1,925 screens during the Friday-through-Sunday weekend.
The strong performance marked the biggest December opening ever for a non-sequel movie, and the second-best December start of all time -- trailing only last year's 'Star Trek VI' $18.1-million record.
'Men,' powered by the marquee appeal of stars Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore, took in nearly double the gross of the No. 2 film, 20th Century Fox's 'Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.'
That sequel sold $8.3 million of tickets at 2,300 screens, enough to push its 24-day gross past the $100-million mark. However, the film clearly will not get much beyond $140 million.
The weekend's only other opening, Disney's 'The Muppet Christmas Carol,' posted a lukewarm $5 million at 2,075 screens for sixth place. Observers expect the movie to take in about $20 million during the season.
As for 'A Few Good Men,' the film performed above expectations for Columbia -- particularly since December's second weekend is historically a tough period for moviegoing, and because severe storms in the Northeast kept many people at home.
Still, this weekend marked the fifth strong Friday-Sunday period in a row for the box office, giving credence to the hope that this holiday season will top last year's record-setting results.
Sid Ganis, Columbia's president of marketing and distribution, said the unexpected high-gross for 'Men' -- which centers on a court martial of two Marines accused of murder -- underscored the film's populist appeal and strong story line.
'I think that this movie will be around for a long time, well after the first of the year,' Ganis said. 'Even on the East Coast, where the weather was very bad, the people managed to get out to see the movie in good numbers.'
'Men' is the latest in a string of successes from Columbia since last summer, when the studio released the surprise hit 'A League of Their Own.'
Since then, Columbia has released solid performers 'Single White Female,' 'Honeymoon in Vegas,' 'A River Runs Through It,' and 'Bram Stoker's 'Dracula,'' with the only disappointments being 'Hero' and 'Mr. Saturday Night.'
However, 'Men' -- which had a reported production-marketing price tag of $60 million -- will face competition this weekend from three openings: Warner's 'Forever Young,' starring Mel Gibson as a frozen World War II test pilot who awakens in 1992, Paramount's 'Leap of Faith,' with Steve Martin as a conman-evangelist, and Fox's Robin Williams comedy 'Toys.'
Additionally, Disney's 'Aladdin,' which was nosed out in a battle for third place with Warner's 'The Bodyguard,' will be adding about 800 screens -- which could propel it to near the top of the heap.
'The Bodyguard' grabbed $7.43 million at 1,806 screens, while 'Aladdin' conjured up $7.41 million at 1,133 theaters. Both 'Aladdin' and 'The Bodyguard' have now topped $50 million of their first 19 days in wide release.
Disney's 'The Distinguished Gentleman' lost nearly half of its opening weekend audience to finish fifth, with $5.4 million at 1,933 screens. The film may have a tough time making back its $50-million cost. Star Eddie Murphy, playing a conman-congressman, has not had a major hit since 1988's 'Coming to America.'
Warner's 'Malcolm X' took in $1.8 million at 1,249 screens to move past $35 million, but the film will probably not make it much further.
'Dracula' flew into eighth with $1.6 million at 1,602 screens. Despite relatively small recent business, the horror-romance has now topped $78 million in 31 days, due to huge grosses in its first three weeks.
Warner's 'Passenger 57' landed in ninth place with $1 million at 1, 551 screens, and 'A River Runs Through It' rounded out the Top 10 with $732,378 at 777 screens, followed by Warner's 'Under Siege' with $715, 469 at 1,145 screens to push its 10-week gross past $75 million.
Weekend gross, screens, total gross, weeks in release:
1. 'A Few Good Men,' $15.5 million, 1,925, 1 week.
2. 'Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,' $8.3 million, 2,300, $101.4 million, 3 weeks.
3. 'The Bodyguard,' $7.43 million, 1806, $51.3 million, 3 weeks.
4. 'Aladdin,' $7.41 million, 1,133, $50.3 million, 5 weeks.
5. 'The Distinguished Gentleman,' $5.4 million, 1,933, $18.6 million, 2 weeks.
6. 'The Muppet Christmas Carol,' $5 million, 2,075, 1 week.
7. 'Malcolm X,' $1.8 million, 1,249, $35.7 million, 4 weeks.
8. 'Bram Stoker's 'Dracula,'' $1.6 million, 1,602, $78.1 million, 5 weeks.
9. 'Passenger 57,' $1 million, 1,551, $37.6 million, 6 weeks.
10. 'A River Runs Through It,' $732,378, 777, $31.5 million, 10 weeks.