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‘Fifth’ goes first; no pop in ‘Fathers’

Sony’s sci-fi actioner “The Fifth Element” rocketed to a powerful $17.2 million estimated bow, routing its freshman rival, Warner Bros.’ “Fathers’ Day,” which had to settle for just over half that amount.

Warners projected the Ivan Reitman-helmed “Fathers’ Day” would sire a disappointing $9 million in its first three days. But even that number was considered optimistic, predicated as it was on a hefty turnout on Mother’s Day, a traditionally soft moviegoing day.

Meanwhile, last weekend’s top grossers, Paramount’s “Breakdown” and New Line’s “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” enjoyed strong holds, moving into third and fourth places with $7.6 million and $7.1 million, respectively.

In the specialized arena, Fine Line’s “Nowhere” opened to $30,000 in single houses in New York and L.A., giving the Gregg Araki-helmed pic a $15,000 per screen average.

Total ticket sales for pics earning $500,000 or more was estimated at $62.6 million, down 4% from the comparable weekend last year, when “Twister” whipped up a $41 million three-day take.

“The Fifth Element,” the Luc Besson-helmed sci-fi extravaganza that opened the Cannes Film Festival, debuted in 2,500 solar systems for a $6,880 average.

The $85 million Bruce Willis starrer — considered the most expensive European production ever — reportedly cost Sony just $25 million for domestic rights, and looks to be yet another feather in the cap of the 1997 market share leader.

Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing, compared the opening to MGM’s 1994 release “Stargate,” which bowed to $16.5 million and went on to gross $71 million. However, he noted that “Element” will faced much stiffer competition early in its run than “Stargate” did: “They didn’t have to deal with dinosaurs in their third week.”

Tracking off track again

“Fathers’ Day’s” poor showing surprised many industry observers, especially given the full-court promotional blitz turned in by its male leads, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. In addition to making the rounds of talkshows, the comic duo last week showed up on Warner Bros.’ highly rated series “Friends.”

Pre-opening tracking had indicated “Fifth Element” would probably take the weekend, but by a considerably smaller margin.

Explanations for the low turnout ranged from pans by key reviewers to the film’s contrarian release date.

“It’s not as good as we had hoped,” WB distribution president Barry Reardon acknowledged.

Execs at rival studios estimated the film’s weekend take would be somewhere between $8.3 and $8.7 million, but Reardon predicted the pic’s Sunday receipts would surpass its Friday take, despite the holiday: “Usually on Mother’s Day, comedies and romantic movies work very well.”

“Fathers’ Day” opened on 2,482 tie racks for a $3,626 average.

Third place went to Spelling and Paramount’s sophomore “Breakdown,” which dropped 38% to abscond with $7.6 million in its second outing. In 2,295 locations the Jonathan Mostow-helmed thriller averaged $3,312. After 10 days, the Kurt Russell starrer has made off with $23.2 million.

Admiration of ‘Powers’

New Line’s “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” once again outperformed industry expectations by dropping just 26% — the least of any top 10 holdover — to $7.1 million. In 2,187 swinging night spots, the Mike Myers vehicle averaged a still-groovy $3,246. Cume after 10 days is $19.5 million.

In fifth place and falling fast is 20th Century Fox’s three-week-old disaster pic “Volcano.” The Tommy Lee Jones starrer plummeted 56% to $4 million in 2,652 eruptions for a dormant $1,508 average. Cume: $33.6 million.

Universal’s venerable holdover “Liar Liar” fell 39% to $3.6 million in 2,318 complexes for a $1,553 average. Now in its eighth week of release, the Tom Shadyac-helmed comedy has cumed $156.4 million.

At No. 7, Buena Vista’s “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” dipped 47% to $2.8 million in 1,606 auditoriums, or $1,743 per gathering. Cume after 17 days is $19 million.

Sony’s snake thriller “Anaconda” slithered down 45% to $2.6 million in 2,302 tents for a $1,129 average. Now in its fifth week, the Luis Llosa-helmed scarefest has cumed $53 million.

Paramount’s “The Saint” tumbled 48% to $1.6 million, landing in ninth place for the weekend. In 1,730 heists the Val Kilmer starrer snatched $925 per assignment. Cume after 38 days is $54.9 million.

Regency and WB’s “Murder at 1600” plunged 51% to $1.4 million in 1,504 oval offices for a $930 average. In its fourth week, the Dwight Little-helmed thriller has cumed $21.8 million.

Among limited expanders, First Look’s “Designated Mourner” took in $19,000 in two New York funeral parlors for a $8,500 average, bringing its cume to $42,700. Miramax’s “Children of the Revolution” commandeered $88,000 after widening its assault to from six battlegrounds to 22.

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