‘Passenger’ carries big B.O.

If momentum counts for anything, the holiday season should be a pip.

The high-altitude $ 10.5 million debut of Warner Bros.’ skyjacking drama “Passenger 57” caps a better-than-average fall that has produced a gaggle of speedy performers arriving in regular succession: U’s “Sneakers,” Fox’s “Last of the Mohicans,” WB’s “Under Siege,” Columbia’s “A River Runs Through It” and Buena Vista’s “The Mighty Ducks,” all of which have some mileage left on them.

Continuing high attendance figures for a diverse sked of films make an excellent lead-in for the first of the Thanksgiving/Christmas biggies, Buena Vista’s “Aladdin” and Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” due for arrival tomorrow and Friday, respectively. If business breeds business, the holidays could be happy ones indeed.

The top 10 films this past weekend grossed $ 39,566,159–27% better than the comparable three-day period last year ($ 31,214,999) when the top film in the marketplace was Warners’ “Curly Sue” with $ 5 million. The weekend easily bested the previous three-day $ 28,163,719 total by 40%.

You’d never know there was an airline industry crisis from “Passenger 57,” which filled plenty of seats in its maiden run. The Wesley Snipes thriller ticketed $ 10,513,925 on 1,734 screens, winging $ 6,063 per theater.

The picture was not so bright for the weekend’s other national release debutante, Paramount’s thriller “Jennifer 8,” which bowed in fifth place. Pic seems headed down a blind alley with a modest $ 3,619,666 three-day total in 967 houses, or $ 3,743 per theater.

Bounced into second place but still remarkably buoyant is Warners’ “Under Siege.” Despite head-to-head competition from “Passenger 57,” the Steven Seagal pic maintained its sea legs with only a skinny 8% dip to $ 5,682,925 million on 2,248 screens, a per-screen average of $ 2,528. That brings its total to $ 59, 492,365.

Continuing the aquatic theme, third place goes to “A River Runs Through It.” Robert Redford’s elegiac Protestant drama is displaying catholic appeal of national release on 1,008 screens (up 213), leaping 19% to $ 5,044,540 for a total of $ 14,085,043 after two weekends in national release.

Slightly down-river but still afloat in fourth place is Buena Vista’s “The Mighty Ducks,” which swam against the tide, spawning 49% more business over the weekend, up to $ 4,007,331 on 1,816 screens–a downy $ 2,207 per theater and $ 35,127,087 after 38 days.

Whooping it up is Fox’s “The Last of the Mohicans,” which climbed 5% from the previous weekend to $ 3,451,025 on 1,832 screens, making an $ 1,884 killing per theater.

Currently in second place for the fall-season cumulative, “Mohicans” has tallied $ 59,282,089 in 45 days.

Three of the four remaining films in the top 10–Tri-Star’s “Candyman,” BV’s “Consenting Adults” and WB’s “Pure Country”–declined between 15% and 25%.

The lone exception was U’s champ “Sneakers,” which added 7% to the previous weekend’s take, even as it lost 120 screens (down to 922), endorsing $ 1,101,790 in the process. The 61-day total is $ 46,339,993.

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