‘Something’s’ up

In 7th frame, 'Mary' second to 'Blade'

Wesley the vampire slayer ruled the box office for a second weekend in a row as New Line’s Snipes starrer “Blade” carved up a studio-estimated $11.1 million, down a moderate 35% from its surprisingly incisive debut.

The gory actioner eviscerated two newcomers, Miramax’s “54” and WB’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” which bowed to just $6.6 million and $4.2 million, respectively.

But the weekend grosses had B.O. mavens buzzing about a cut-up of a different stripe: Twentieth Century Fox’s comedy “There’s Something About Mary,” which saw a remarkable gain of 14% to $8.8 million. It’s extremely unusual for a pic to go up rather than down this late in its run.

The increase was enough to catapult “Mary” ahead of DreamWorks’ “Saving Private Ryan” and into second place for the first time since its July 17 opening. After nearly seven weeks in release, the R-rated Cameron Diaz-Ben Stiller starrer has accumulated $116.7 million and shows no signs of slowing.

Amazingly, the off-beat, off-color $25 million-budgeted comedy now has a very good shot at becoming the summer’s third-highest grosser, behind “Ryan” and Buena Vista’s “Armageddon,” which are both on track to finish with close to $200 million.

To finish third, “Mary” would have to surpass Fox’s own “Dr. Dolittle,” which appears likely to top out slightly below $145 million.

Explaining “Mary’s” surprising increase over a week earlier, one distribution exec at a rival studio said, “With nothing big opening this weekend, kids may have just said ‘Let’s go see “Mary” again.’ ”

The picture is clearly benefiting from heavy repeat viewership, but it’s also expanding its fan base into smaller towns, according to Tom Sherak, 20th Domestic Motion Picture Group chairman.

“R-rated films take longer to reach smaller markets,” said Sherak. “The good news is that by the time ‘Mary’ gets there, moviegoers know all about the film.”

In seven weekends, the Peter and Bobby Farrelly-helmed comedy has yet to finish No. 1, but that, too, could change. Fox plans to add more prints for the Labor Day weekend, when it faces off against the three-week-old “Blade” and a single wide newcomer, MDP and Sony’s Jean-Claude Van Damme starrer “Knock Off.”

“Knock Off” isn’t likely to pose much of a threat, if Van Damme’s recent films are any indication. Last year’s “Double Team” bowed to $5 million, while 1996’s “Maximum Risk” and “The Quest” opened to $5.6 million and $7 million, respectively.

So if “Blade” continues its moderate descent, “Mary” has a shot at the top spot.

In the current era of megaplexes, big openings and fast fades, “Mary’s” trajectory is highly unusual. The last time a modestly budgeted film built a huge following based largely on positive word-of-mouth was probably Miramax’s original “Scream.”

That picture opened to just $6.4 million on Dec. 20, 1996 and finished with $103 million. “Scream” saw a 12% increase in its seventh weekend.

But “Scream’s” viewership began predominantly with teenagers, eventually expanding to include curious adults wondering what all the fuss was about. “Mary,” on the other hand, has surprised many observers with its initial broad appeal, despite its famously raunchy gags.

Even if New Line’s $11.1 million projection of “Blade” proves overly optimistic — rival studios generally put the number about a half-million dollars lower — the hold was still more robust than many had anticipated. By comparison, last year’s “Spawn” dropped 55% in its second weekend.

Part of the difference was certainly the competition, as the weekend’s only two wide newcomers failed to catch fire.

With a three-day gross of $6.6 million, Miramax’s $13 million ode to the disco era, “54” didn’t exactly sparkle.

The picture’s opening was probably hurt by the critical thrashings it received at the hands of key New York and L.A. reviewers. It’s also possible that audiences old enough to remember the glitzy Gotham disco, and the decadent period it epitomized, preferred to leave those memories in the closet with their polyester shirts and Chic records.

Also falling flat was Warner Bros.’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” The Gregory Nava-helmed biopic, about three women, each claiming to be R&B singer Frankie Lymon’s legal widow, averaged an inauspicious $3,550 per screen.

Among specialized releases, Gramercy’s “Your Friends and Neighbors” continued to make friends in big city arthouses. The Neil LaBute-helmed drama grossed an estimated $359,000 in 45 bedrooms for a $7,978 average, bringing its 10-day cume to $924,000.

Another sophomore, Miramax’s “Next Stop Wonderland,” picked up slightly less steam in its expansion. The costly Sundance acquisition tracked $370,000 after widening its run from 8 to 69 theaters in the top 40 markets, or $5,352 per station. Cume so far is $555,000. The Hope Davis starrer will expand to 250 runs Friday.

Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight’s “The Slums of Beverly Hills” grossed $843,000 after moving up from 8 to 181 tenaments for a $4,657 average. Now in the third week of its rapid platform release, the picture has cumed a ritzy $1.2 million.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Paramount announced that “Titanic” crossed the $600 million mark Thursday after an unusually strong discount run. The news comes just in time for its video release Tuesday.

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