As early snow storms buffeted the Northeast and Midwest Friday and Saturday, business at the box office cooled slightly from the previous week and dropped precipitously from a year ago.

Universal and Mutual Film Co.’s “The Jackal” pounced into the No. 1 spot with a $15.2 million opening. In 2,193 situations the Bruce Willis-Richard Gere thriller zeroed in on a solid $6,915 per shot.

Heading into a tailspin was Sony’s costly sci-fi actioner “Starship Troopers.” The Paul Verhoeven-helmed war film plummeted 55% to $39.2 million.

If it continues to fall off at that alarming rate “Troopers,” could wind up with a domestic take of about $60 million. That would put it in the orbit of more modestly budgeted sci-fi entries including the Sony-distributed “The Fifth Element,” which grossed $63.5 million earlier this year, and MGM’s “Stargate,” which landed at $71.6 million in 1994.

Profit unlikely

Sources put “Troopers’ ” budget at substantially more than $100 million, which means that even with huge grosses overseas — where Buena Vista handles distribution — the special effects extravaganza is unlikely to turn a profit.

Older teens and young men helped “Starship” blast off to a solid $22.1 million last weekend. But despite its attractive cast and strong female roles, the futuristic battle pic apparently failed to entice significant numbers of female viewers. Meanwhile, the pic’s R rating and high dismemberment quotient kept tykes at bay.

Futuristic blockbusters such as “Men in Black,” “Independence Day” and “Star Wars” reached the box office stratosphere by attracting adults and young kids as well as teens.

“Troopers’ ” trajectory is more akin to 20th Century Fox’s “Alien3,” which bowed to $23.1 million over the 1992 Memorial Day frame and finished with $55.5 million.

‘Nuebo impressive’

Back on Earth, Kit Parker’s “Nuebo Yol 3″ continued its impressive run, grossing $204,286 after expanding out of New York City into neighboring markets. The sequel managed a healthy $5,675 per-screen average in 36 playdates throughout the Northeast.

Ticket sales for the top 60 films totaled $82 million, down 2% from last weekend.

The box office was off 9% from the $90.3 million tally of the comparable 1996 frame when Warner Bros.’ “Space Jam” tipped of to $27.5 million and Buena Vista’s sophomore “Ransom” made off with $22.4 million.

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