‘AF1,’ ‘Conspiracy’ hang tough

There was a new beat at the box office as Miramax’s “Cop Land” finished first for the weekend with an estimated $12.8 million. The star-powered drama had fierce competition from both “Air Force One” and “Conspiracy Theory,” but while the other pictures out-grossed the Sylvester Stallone film Saturday, the new entry appeared to have a commanding enough lead from opening day to collar the frame.

The weekend also saw a good takeoff for Paramount’s “Event Horizon” and a very tarnished start for Warner Bros.’ “Steel.” Fox Searchlight’s “The Full Monty” also had boisterous returns in a limited six-theater debut.

Corruption and power topped the bill as “Cop Land” premiered with $12.8 million at 2,233 precincts. Opening day grossed a sturdy $4.1 million while Saturday expanded a disappointing 18%. The projected weekend should generate close to a brawny average of $5,730.

A race for second

Second spot was a horse race between Sony’s “Air Force One” and “Conspiracy Theory,” with the former nosing in front.

“Air Force One” flew to $12.6 million, veering 29% from last week’s course. The yarn of a U.S. president held hostage was still flexing a mighty $4,230 theater average from 2,981 hangars. Definitely getting the audience seal of approval, the actioner has soared to $130.6 million cume.

“Conspiracy Theory” plotted out a 37% decline in its second weekend at 2,803 not-so-covert operations for a $12.3 million gross. The thriller had a $4,390 average, and has grossed $40.6 million in 10 days of release.

Biz on course

Weekend business appeared on course for roughly an $80 million frame, a 10% decline from seven days earlier but about 15% ahead of the comparable period of 1996. The year’s box office climbed to $4.1 billion, bettering by 7.5% last year’s record pace. Summer seasonal B.O. topped $1.96 billion, pushing it .5% ahead of any other to this point.

Paramount’s scared-to-death-in-space foray “Event Horizon” took fourth position with an estimated $9.5 million. A melange of “Alien” and Clive Barker graphic horrors, the pic opened in 2,311 orbits with a solid genre average of $4,110.

Warner Bros. had a bad Shaq attack with “Steel,” which dribbled to $860,000. The yarn of an urban costumed warrior courted no favor at 1,260 venues for a personal foul for the hoopster. It ranked 16th overall with a rusty $670 average

‘Monty’ shakes booty

A quartet of indie freshmen had OK debuts, with the major exception being Fox Searchlight’s heartier “The Full Monty,” which shook its booty to $187,000 from six engagements. The comedy of Brits on the dole who stage a male strip show definitely went all the way with a $31,100 screen average. Pic received the audience award over the weekend at the Locarno fest (see story, page 19).

The remaining trio were Strand’s gay romance “The Delta,” grossing $17,500 from two sites; Goldwyn’s light comic “Paperback Romance,” with $14,000 from four stands; and CFP’s “Mon Homme” import, with $3,700 at a single Manhattan house.

‘Jane’ sneaks

The weekend also featured 1,000-screen Saturday night sneaks of both Hollywood Pictures’ “G.I. Jane” and New Line’s comedy-actioner “Money Talks.” “Jane” — which also sneaked a week earlier — experienced a slight audience boost. Buena Vista senior VP Chuck Viane said initial exit polls showed a 50/50 male-female split and an older-skewing crowd. New Line had not sorted through its surveys but said “Money Talks” attracted about 75% overall capacity.

New Line’s “Spawn” declined 43% to rank fifth with $5.1 million. The dark avenger earned a $2,060 average from 2,478 nests. It’s hatched $46.8 million to date.

‘George’ still swinging

Disney’s “George of the Jungle” was still swinging in sixth spot with $4.9 million. Off 23% in its fifth weekend, the vintage viner was on the mark at 2,431 treehouses with a $2,020 average. The cume through Monday is $84.7 million.

Sony’s “Men in Black” moved to within $1 million of usurping the place of Universal’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” as 1997’s top grosser. For the frame, it slipped 24% to rank seventh with $4.3 million. Still at 2,261 outposts, the pic nabbed a $1,900 average to bring its cume to $225.4 million.

Fox’s “Picture Perfect” was sitting pretty in position eight with $3.3 million. The modern romance fell 42% for a $1,940 average at 1,697 trysts. It’s grossed $23.7 million after three weekends.

Warner Bros.’ “Contact” fell 38% to finish ninth with $2.8 million. The high-minded tale of intergalactic communication picked up a $1,930 average from 1,451 receivers. It has a cume of $88.5 million.

Dead heat for 10th

Tenth spot was a dead heat for Gramercy’s “Def Jam’s How to Be a Player” and Disney/Malo’s doggone “Air Bud,” with both items tallying $2.5 million for the frame. “Player” ebbed 41% at 756 hip happenings for a $3,310 average and a $10 million cume. “Bud,” the basketball-playing pooch, was at 1,671 kennels with an average bark of $1,500. It’s bit off a $17 million gross to date.

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