The turtles landed in the soup as New Line’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Turtles Are Back … In Time” served up a hearty stew of $ 12,419,597 in its first three days in U.S. release. Kicking off in 2,087 playdates, the sequel posted averages of $ 5,951.

“Turtles III,” whichwas pretty consistently drubbed by critics, appears to be developing the dreaded movie disease of franchiseitis. Each manifestation costs more and delivers less on both artistic and commercial levels. Traditionally, the worst cases of the ailment occur when you have to follow an original. It’s known as “the terrible 2s.”

“Turtles II” saw its final gross down by some 42%. In terms of opening averages, “Turtles II” was 45% less potent. “Turtles III” was off 15% from the second installment and logic would suggest a final domestic theatrical gross in the neighborhood of $ 65 million. When you toss in ancillary revenues, that is likely to add up to more than $ 100 million.

The bottom line to this avalanche of numbers is “IV.” There will be a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV” because the franchise remains very economically viable. Next time it might even be a good movie.

Next to the sequel, the remake is the great commercial “no brainer.” As if to make this point clear to one and all, Warner Bros. finished second with “Point of No Return,” a literally faithful though artistically diminished version of “La Femme Nikita.” The film had a $ 7,160,389 opening on 1,545 screens for averages of $ 4,635.

“Point” also was not critically embraced. However, during the great elephant’s graveyard of the first quarter, these type of pre-identified films do better in the marketplace.

The two films grossed 60% better than last week’s dynamic duo of “CB4″ from Universal and Paramount’s “Fire in the Sky.”

Even adjusting for last weekend’s inclement weather, the freshmen would probably still be ahead by a solid 30%.

Overall, the pictures most affected by snow and wind seven days earlier saw small gains or losses during the past weekend. Families were back in force and Oscar-nominated films got a boost, no doubt from those who want to be fully prepared for the March 29 viewing festivities.

Two films which demonstrate just part of the effect of the storms are Universal’s “Scent of a Woman” and Columbia/Castle Rock’s “A Few Good Men.” Both films had modest box-office boosts — 8% and 4%, respectively — while simultaneously cutting back 100 to 150 screens. With the exception of Miramax’s “The Crying Game” (which was flat with last weekend), Oscar hopefuls “Aladdin, “”Unforgiven” and “Howards End” all got the benefit of an Oscar boost.

Other new films in the marketplace remained pretty low-key. Miramax’s debut of “Just Another Girl on the IRT” opened on 11 screens and reported a gross of $ 41,243 for not-so-encouraging averages of $ 3,749.

MGM had one of the most effectively invisible relaunches with the 25 th-anniversary edition of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Debuting in L.A. at the Cinerama Dome it posted $ 6,937 in its opening weekend.

A spokesman for the studio said there would be additional dates on the seminal sci-fi film but specifics were yet to be set.

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