Willis pic holds strong, tops 'Bowfinger'

Seemingly possessing supernatural powers of its own, Buena Vista’s “The Sixth Sense” levitated a studio-estimated $26.1 million in its second weekend, hovering just 2% below its debut.

The Bruce Willis-starrer, co-financed by Spyglass, baffled box office soothsayers for a second consecutive weekend by once again snatching the top spot from the front-runner, this time Universal’s freshman “Bowfinger.”

Meanwhile, the nation’s obsession with “The Blair Witch Project” finally appears to have crested. The low-budget horror mockumentary dropped 37% to a still-potent $15.3 million in its third wide weekend.

The near-flat trajectory of “The Sixth Sense” makes accurately predicting a final domestic cume nearly impossible. Warner Bros.’ “The Fugitive,” also a PG-13 pic, opened in early Aug., 1993, to $23.8 million and enjoyed a 6% drop in its second weekend. The action drama eventually topped out at $183.9 million.

With $70 million already in the cash box after 10 days, “Sense” appears destined to venture into similar territory, but it could go higher.

The pic’s nearly certain blockbuster status is all the more amazing given the lack of industry buzz before its release, observed BV distribution prexy Chuck Viane. “If ever there was a true sleeper hit, this is it,” he said.

Martin’s top payday

“Bowfinger,” which stars Eddie Murphy and Steven Martin, had to settle for a distant second, with a solid if not spectacular $18.2 million in 2,706 locations, or $6,726 per shot. While the debut marked a career high for Martin, it fell far short of Murphy’s biggest three-day gross, the $29 million opening of “Doctor Dolittle” last summer.

Like “Sense,” “Bowfinger” skewed older; 55% of those in attendance Saturday were over 30. The more mature demographic, plus positive word of mouth, indicated by exit polls could add up to good legs for the comedy.

The frame’s two other wide releases, on the other hand, were essentially non-starters. In its long-delayed theatrical release, 20th Century Fox’s “Brokedown Palace” pieced together a ramshackle $4 million in 1,740 houses or $2,299 per site.

Even less promising was the debut of New Line’s “Detroit Rock City.” Drumming up a lackluster $2 million in 1,802 arenas, the pic tapped out a slim $1,110 average. The opening was in line with pre-release market research indicating scant interest in the pic about a group of teenage boys determined to attend a Kiss concert.

“Detroit” may have suffered in part from the same problem which has hurt well-reviewed films like “Dick,” “Go” and “Election”: a youthful cast and storyline coupled with an R-rating and adult themes. Moviegoers who don’t count themselves among Kiss’ fanbase may have felt they had even one less reason to see the pic.

While the theatrical business overall took a breather from the torrid pace of the previous two weekends, the market continued to hum along far ahead of last year at this time.

Total ticket sales were estimated at roughly $125 million, off 19% from the week earlier. But that’s an improvement of about 21% from the comparable weekend a year ago when the four-week-old “Saving Private Ryan” topped the chart at $13.2 million.

‘Bride’ rides on

In its third weekend, Paramount’s “Runaway Bride” landed at No. 4, down 32% to $14.2 million. With $98.4 million in its hope chest, the pic should cross the $100 million threshhold Tuesday, on its way to about $135 million .

In the No. 5 slot, MGM’s “The Thomas Crown Affair” fell a moderate 30% in its second weekend. With $39.1 million in the bag after 10 days, the Pierce Brosnan-Renee Russo caper pic should finish its run in the $60 million-$65 million range.

Warner Bros.’ “Iron Giant” dipped 34% to $3.8 million, bringing its cume to $12.6 million. The critically-acclaimed animated feature appears on course to top out at about $25 million.

In the specialized arena, Trimark’s “Better than Chocolate” opened to $88,700 in 15 locations, or $5,913 per confectioner. In its second weekend, Artisan’s “Illuminata” picked up $44,000 in eight locations, bringing its cume to $125,000.

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