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‘Titanic’ hangs on to B.O. lead

'Marshals' push falls short; boat cume at $449.6 mil

For a few hours on Friday night it looked as though “Titanic” had finally hit its first iceberg, as Warner Bros.’ rookie “U.S. Marshals” led the Paramount/Fox blockbuster by about $800,000 in round one of the weekend bout.

But “Titanic” scored a decisive victory on Saturday and by Sunday morning was declared the clear winner with a studio-estimated $18 million vs. “U.S. Marshals’ ” $17.1 million. While both estimates may prove slightly optimistic once the final ticket sales are counted up today, observers agreed the sequel to “The Fugitive” would have to settle for the lower berth.

“We gave them a great run,” said Barry Reardon, Warner Bros. distribution president.

While “Marshals’ ” opening tally came to exactly two-thirds of “The Fugitive’s” $23.8 million debut, in the long term the sequel probably won’t come close to the original’s massive $183.9 million final cume. Without significant crossover appeal, action films typically suffer steep dropoffs following their opening weekends.

Overall business was strong over the weekend, as films grossing $500,000 or more totaled an estimated $80 million.

That’s an improvement of 1% over this time last year, when “Private Parts” and “Jungle 2 Jungle” led the pack.

Now in its 12th weekend, “Titanic” has cumed a jaw-dropping $449.6 million, and will likely top “Star Wars’ ” record $461 million lifetime cume sometime next weekend.

If “Titanic” holds on at No. 1 for seven more days it will tie the record for consecutive weeks in the top spot. Both Columbia’s “Tootsie” and Par’s “Beverly Hills Cop” remained box office champs for 13 straight weeks.

But pre-opening market research indicates that MGM’s “The Man in the Iron Mask,” which features “Titanic” heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio in two roles, could be the picture that finally knocks the James Cameron-helmed juggernaut from its perch.

In its fourth weekend, New Line’s “The Wedding Singer” slipped a notch to third place. The Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy was off 29% to $6.2 million, according to the distributor’s projections. The pic has cumed a solid $57.8 million to date.

The race for fourth place was too close to call, with two newcomers, Paramount’s “Twilight” and Sony’s “Hush,” each bowing to $6 million, according to their respective studios.

In 1,351 situations, “Twilight” had the better per screen average of the two with $4,441. The film, which stars Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman, appealed mainly to older auds.

“Hush” bowed in 1,966 locations, giving it a less promising $3,052 per screen. Star Gwyneth Paltrow helped the film attract predominantly younger females.

At No. 6, Gramercy’s “The Big Lebowski,” the Coen brothers’ followup to “Fargo,” bowed to $5.6 million in 1,207 bowling alleys, or $4,629 per game.

Among exclusive openers, Lions Gate’s critically acclaimed “Love and Death on Long Island” got off to a strong start in six New York and L.A. runs. The pic, which stars John Hurt and Jason Priestley, grossed a projected $83,000, or $13,833 per screen.

The film’s take was limited somewhat by the size of the rooms it played in certain key situations. “Love and Death” sold out several shows each at L.A.’s Laemmle Sunset 5, Sony’s Lincoln Plaza and New York’s Angelika Film Center.

On Friday the pic moves into the top 25 markets and expands its runs in New York and Southern California.

Also bowing was Sony Pictures Classics’ “Men With Guns,” writer-director John Sayles’ mostly Spanish-language pic. Daily Variety estimated the pic grossed about $23,500 in two New York theaters, or $11,500 per site.

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