HOLLYWOOD -- Bill Murray's comedy 'Groundhog Day' surfaced at the top of the nation's box office, overshadowing rivals on Presidents' Day weekend with $14.7 million at 1,640 screens during the Friday- through-Monday period.
'Groundhog Day,' also starring Andie McDowell, posted the second- best February opening ever, trailing only the $18.1 million grossed by last year's smash 'Wayne's World' for Paramount.
The Columbia release, starring Murray as a TV weatherman caught in a time loop on Feb. 2, should have a strong performance through Memorial Day, according to Mark Canton, the studio's chairman.
'All of our polling and the box office results point to the fact that this is a great populist movie,' said Canton, who succeeded Frank Price as studio head 18 months ago and appears to have posted his fourth major hit among movies he has 'green-lighted.' The others have been 'A League of Their Own,' 'Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'' and 'A Few Good Men.'
'Groundhog Day' reunited Canton with Murray and director Harold Ramis, who teamed on the Warner Bros.' hit 'Caddyshack.'
Columbia executives also said the movie played well in big cities and small towns, and posted only a slight drop from Saturday's $5 million take to Sunday's $4.3 million -- an indication of strong word-of-mouth.
'It also has proven itself as a major family picture -- a classic PG- rated film -- as evidenced not only by our exit polls, but also by the strong Sunday matinee business,' said Jeff Blake, president of domestic distribution.
'Groundhog Day' will probably lead the box office this weekend, as the only major release due out is Universal's science fiction time- travel drama, 'Army of Darkness,' featuring 'Evil Dead' co-star Bruce Campbell. If it can gross around $10 million for the weekend, it will be on its way to winding up in the $75-million-to-$100-million range.
February has been a bonanza so far for the film business following a disappointing January. New Line's goofy comedy 'National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1' and Warner Bros.' romance 'Sommersby' posted strong results last weekend.
'Sommersby,' taking advantage of Valentine's Day, repeated its No. 2 showing with $9.9 million at 1,710 screens. The studio added 272 screens to the post-Civil War drama, giving it a solid $20.4 million in its first 10 days.
Disney's animal adventure 'Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey' opened moderately well with $8.1 million at 1,702 screens in third place, but MGM's romance 'Untamed Heart' was lukewarm in sixth with $4.1 million at 1,120 screens.
Paramount's corporate murder-mystery 'The Temp' opened feebly in 10th place with $2.9 million at 1,438 screens amid scathing reviews lamenting the latest attempt to borrow the crazed-woman-on-the-loose format from TriStar's 'Basic Instinct' and Disney's 'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.'
Two dramas opened with mid-sized rollouts without much interest: Disney's 'The Cemetery Club' with $1.9 million at 523 screens, and Orion's 'Love Field' with a mild estimated $300,000 at 210 screens.
Disney's 'Aladdin' conjured up a still strong $6.7 million at 1,903 screens in fourth place, bringing its take to nearly $174 million. It will top the stduio record for top grosser, now held by 'Pretty Woman' at $178.3 million, this weekend.
Last weekend's No. 1 movie, 'National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1,' fell off sharply from its $9.2 million debut, but was still respectable in fifth with $6.1 million at 2,015 screens. It has already taken in $17.4 million in 11 days, easily topping its $10 million budget.
20th Century Fox's thriller 'The Vanishing' faded fast to seventh in its second weekend with $3.5 million at 1,658 screens, followed by 'A Few Good Men' with $3.3 million at 1,352 screens and Universal's 'Scent of a Woman' with $3.2 million at 1,206 screens.
TriStar's 'Sniper' was 11th with $2.3 million at 1,292 screens, followed by Fox's 'Home Alone 2: Lost in New York' with $1.5 million at 1,254 screens, pushing its gross past $164 million.
Miramax's thriller 'The Crying Game' continued its strong performance with $1.3 million at 239 screens, while its Australian hit 'Strictly Ballroom' opened impressively with $145,977 at nine screens.
Miramax is expected to expand 'Crying' this weekend, particularly if it nabs some Oscar nominations on Wednesday. 'Aladdin,' 'A Few Good Men' and 'Scent of a Woman' can probably see significant gains to business from the nominations, while 'Love Field' and Universal's 'Lorenzo's Oil' are in desperate need of that boost to keep from disappearing.
Weekend gross, screens, total gross, weeks in release:
1. 'Groundhog Day,' $14.7 million, 1,640, 1 week.
2. 'Sommersby,' $9.9 million, 1,710, $20.4 million, 2 weeks.
3. 'Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,' $8.1 million, 1,702, $8.2 million, 1 week.
4. 'Aladdin,' $6.7 million, 1,903, $173.5 million, 14 weeks.
5. 'National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1,' $6.1 million, 2,015, $17.4 million, 2 weeks.
6. 'Untamed Heart,' $4.1 million, 1,123, 1 week.
7. 'The Vanishing,' $3.5 million, 1,658, $9.8 million, 2 weeks.
8. 'A Few Good Men,' $3.3 million, 1,352, $124 million, 10 weeks.
9. 'Scent of a Woman,' $3.2 million, 1,206, $38.1 million, 8 weeks.
10. 'The Temp,' $2.9 million, 1,438, 1 week.