Soph takes $24 mil to Sony thriller's $14 mil

In a B.O. battle featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest — and best-paid — stars, reigning champ Jim Carrey easily fended off a challenge from Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt, as Universal’s sophomore ”Liar Liar” took in an estimated $24.2 million over the three-day weekend, nearly $10 million more than Sony’s newcomer, ”The Devil’s Own.” Meanwhile, Oscar heavyweight “The English Patient” added 400 screens and saw a 48% bump at the B.O. to $3 million.

Dropping just 23%, ”Liar” testified in 2,853 courtrooms for a fiery $8,482 average. In its second weekend, the Tom Shadyac-helmed comedy set a new Easter weekend record, topping the $18.4 million debut of Paramount’s ”Inde-cent Proposal” in 1993. Cume after 10 days is $69.8 million.

In second place, Columbia Pictures’ ”The Devil’s Own” bowed to a respectable $14.3 million in 2,504 households for a solid $5,711 per screen. Since its Wednesday opening, the Alan Pakula-helmed thriller has cumed $18.1 mil-lion.

Led by those two films, the weekend total for all $500,000-plus grossers is estimated at around $79 million, up 42% from the same weekend last year, and 28% from last Easter.

The weekend’s four other wide openers were considerably less distinguished, however.

In fifth place, Buena Vista’s basketball fantasy ”The Sixth Man” scored $4.3 million in 1,227 arenas for a $3,504 shooting average.

At No. 7, 20th Century Fox’s ”Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie” opened to $3.5 million in 2,113 locations for a less than turbo-charged $1,656 average.

‘B.A.P.S.’ craps out

New Line’s Robert Townsend-helmed comedy, ”B.A.P.S.,” hit town with $2.8 million, landing in ninth place for the weekend. In 1,204 theaters the Halle Berry starrer averaged $2,326 per playdate.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ ”Cats Don’t Dance” failed utterly to perform. Taking in $965,000 in 1,252 production numbers, the animated musical averaged $770 per screen.

While the debut of ”The Devil’s Own” is nothing to sneeze at, particularly given the fierce competition of ”Liar Liar,” it’s probably less than Sony execs originally had hoped for the picture, which reportedly cost $90 million to make.

Legless wonders

In recent months a number of films have opened in the $14 million-$17 million range — which once indi-cated at least a fighting chance of a $100 million final figure — and gone on to fizzle out between $45 million and $65 million. For example, Sony and Castle Rock’s ”Absolute Power” debuted at $16.8 million and now appears likely to finish at just over $50 million, and Paramount’s ”Private Parts” opened to $14.6 million on its way to about $45 million. Even Universal’s ”Dante’s Peak,” which erupted to a powerful $18.5 million, will probably go dormant at around $65 million.

In third place, Warner Bros.’ ”Selena” fell off sharply from its debut a week earlier. Dropping 52% to $5.6 million, the Jennifer Lopez starrer unspooled in 1,873 casas, averaging $2,990; cume after 10 days is $21.2 million.

At No. 4, Fox’s ”Return of the Jedi” — the only installment of the ”Star Wars” trilogy reissues to remain in the top 10 — dropped 40% to $4.5 million. On 1,837 planets the sci-fi adventure averaged $2,450. Cume for the ”Special Edition” release is $34.8 million; the picture has grossed $298.5 million since its 1983 release.

Buena Vista’s ”Jungle 2 Jungle” dropped 32% to gross $4.1 million, putting it in sixth place. In 2,283 outings the family comedy averaged $1,796. Now in its fourth week, the Tim Allen starrer has cumed $42.1 million.

Miramax’s ”The English Patient,” which one week ago swept the Oscars with nine awards, including best picture, saw a 48% increase in ticket sales after widening its run from 1,002 to 1,409 sites, according to the minimajor. The Anthony Minghella-helmed epic, which occupied the No. 8 spot for the weekend, averaged $2,129 per complex; cume after 21 weeks in the marketplace is $67.6 million.

Tenth place went to Paramount’s ”Private Parts,” which slid 43% to $2.5 million in 1,848 situations, or $1,353 per playdate. Cume after 25 days is $38.3 million.

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