‘Blade’ draws B.O. blood

Snipes starrer clips 'Ryan'; 'Mary' still a looker

New Line’s supernatural actioner “Blade” swung into first place over the weekend, slicing off a studio-estimated $17 million and pushing Paramount and DreamWork’s “Saving Private Ryan” out of the top spot after four consecutive frames at No. 1.

Landing in second place, “Ryan” dropped a modest 23% to $10.1 million, bringing its cume to $142.7 million after 31 days on the theatrical front lines.

The weekend’s three other newcomers looked considerably less sharp: Paramount’s “Dead Man on Campus” and Sony’s “Dance With Me” both failed to crack the top five, while Warner Bros.’ “Wrongfully Accused” finished 12th.

“Blade,” based on a nearly 30-year-old Marvel comic character, appealed to a wider audience than New Line execs had expected. Rather than just the traditional action audience of young males, the film also attracted a significant number of women and auds in the 25-49 year old group, according to the company.

The muscular debut was particularly impressive given “Blade’s” late August release date. On a weekend when many college students were headed back to school and settling into dorm rooms, the Wesley Snipes-Stephen Dorff starrer helped drive the overall box office to a still-hot $90 million-plus estimated finish. While theatrical business was down about 13% from the previous weekend, it was up around 7% from the comparable frame a year ago.

August appeal

In recent years, New Line has staked out late August as a launching pad for effects-laden, youth-oriented actioners. The Time-Warner subsid now lays claim to three of the top 10 August openers: “Mortal Kombat” bowed to $23.3 million in 1995, eventually reaching $70.5 million domestically; and last year, the comic-book inspired “Spawn” hatched at $21.2 million on its way to $54.9 million.

In the longterm, however, “Blade” will probably fall short of its predecessors. The picture saw only a 5% increase in attendance Saturday over Friday, a sign that “Blade” will lose its box office luster quickly.

Paramount’s freshman “Dead Man on Campus,” the first live action film from Par-based MTV Films, grossed a studio-estimated $4.7 million to take sixth place.

Attendance for the R-rated black comedy, which received poor grades from reviewers, was virtually flat Saturday compared to Friday, indicating the picture is likely to become an early dropout.

Hot on its heels, Sony’s “Dance With Me” twirled into seventh place with $4.5 million. The Vanessa Williams-Chayanne starrer found some interest among big city women and Latinos, but stumbled in small to mid-size markets.

The least successful of the freshman crop was Warner Bros.’ “Wrongfully Accused.” The send-up of “The Fugitive” and its ilk debuted in 12th place with $3.4 million. In 2,062 situations, the Leslie Nielsen starrer averaged just $1,649.

In 11th place, only slightly ahead of “Accused,” was WB’s sophomore “The Avengers.” The update of the campy British spy series plummeted a stunning 66% to $3.6 million in its second weekend. With a 10-day cume of $17.7 million, the $60 million-budgeted pic appears unlikely to top $25 million in North American ticket sales.

Last weekend’s other top newcomer, 20th Century Fox’s “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” dropped 42% to $6.6 million, landing in the No. 4 slot. The Angela Bassett starrer has cumed $22.3 million after 10 days, and now appears likely finish its domestic run with just under $40 million. That compares to the $67 million cume of 1995’s “Waiting To Exhale,” which, like “Stella” was based on a Terry McMillan bestseller.

Still strong

Meanwhile, Fox’s “There’s Something About Mary” moved up a notch to third place, with a studio projected $7.9 million three-day total. That’s a drop of just 10% from the previous weekend. Now in its sixth week, the Peter and Bobby Farrelly helmed comedy has grossed an amazing $104.2 million, and appears on track to finish with about $140 million.

The weekend saw the launch of two promising specialized pics.

Gramercy’s “Your Friends and Neighbors” grossed an estimated $330,000 in 32 theaters in 21 markets. The dark look at sexual politics, director Neil Labute’s follow up to “In The Company of Men,” averaged $10,304 per liaison.

Miramax’s “Next Stop, Wonderland,” grossed $120,000 in eight theaters in New York, Los Angeles and director Brad Anderson’s home town of Boston. The indie romantic comedy, which Miramax acquired earlier this year at Sundance, averaged $15,000 per site.

Less auspicious was Miramax and Alliance Communications’ limited debut of “Strike.” The Kirsten Dunst-Gaby Hoffman starrer about an all-girl prep school about to turn co-ed grossed $240,000 in 133 locations, 120 in Canada and 13 in Seattle. That figures out to just $1,805 per classroom.

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