Par thriller edges 'Us' and 'Club' for fourth B.O. win

A new fight club formed over the weekend — and Brad Pitt’s not a member.

Rather, the combatants were Paramount, Universal and Fox, whose pics battled nearly to a B.O. draw. Winner by decision and still heavyweight champion: Par’s surprising “Double Jeopardy,” which execs say raked in $10.5 million in its fourth week.

U’s “The Story of Us” followed with an estimated bow of $10.4 million. “Fight Club,” Fox’s pugilistic pic, rope-a-doped $10.3 million in Round 1.

It was the fourth straight weekend title for “Double Jeopardy,” the actioner starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones. It added 23 playdates over last week, but the B.O. fell just 22%, at $3,576 per screen.

“The simple concept of being able to walk up and shoot your husband on Main Street is something the public has really grabbed onto,” said Wayne Lewellen, Par’s distrib chief. “It’s the same kind of basic question as the one about whether you would sleep with Robert Redford in ‘Indecent Proposal.’ “

The Rob Reiner-helmed “Us” teams a kinder, gentler Bruce Willis with Michelle Pfeiffer as a couple enduring marital ups and downs.

Auds’ hearts were warmed, but not Nikki Rocco’s. U’s head of distribution felt “Us” was the true weekend winner.

“I don’t know, maybe my calculator works differently than theirs,” Rocco said of Par’s numbers. Predictably, 65% of the pic’s aud was female; 59% was over 30.

‘Fight’ for youth

“Fight Club,” meanwhile, cornered the youth market but still fell short of expectations.

Buzz about brutal violence in pic starring Pitt and Edward Norton had some predicting a bigger opening flurry. Still, it scored a $5,240 per-screen average, tops of any wide release.

Though arguably the ultimate anti-date flick, “Fight” managed a decent gender mix of 61% male, 39% female. About 58% of the crowd was sub-25.

Tom Sherak of Fox was eyeing grosses closer to $15 million a few days ago. Stumbling block appeared to be the feeble 10% gross build from Friday to Saturday.

Sherak blamed lackluster overall B.O. numbers. Indeed, the weekend’s top 10 films took in a combined $68.1 million, down $8 million from the previous weekend estimate. Every non-debut in the Top 10 showed a decline.

Stumbling blocks

“Everything should have done better,” Sherak said, listing televised baseball and chillier weather as possible hurdles.

Sony, however, can blame neither sports nor storms for the swoon of “Random Hearts.” Pic experienced a sudden loss of cabin pressure, falling a steep 55% in week 2 to crash land in sixth place.

Jeff Blake, head of Sony’s distrib, conceded pic’s plotline about a love affair arising from a plane crash is “hard for an audience to embrace.”

Sydney Pollack-directed romance cost $78 million, so studio will count on ancillaries to recoup.

‘Beauty’ fades

DreamWorks’ platforming “American Beauty” posted its first dropoff in five weeks of release, despite gaining 124 screens for a total of 1,350. Cume stands at $41.4 million.

Mix of adult themes and young cast has kept auds roughly half above and half below age 30, the studio said.

Extending its unlikely run, Disney’s “The Sixth Sense” finished eighth, but dropped just 15% — best of any wide non-debut — to conjure $5.2 million.

Now the No. 15 all-time grosser at $249.9 million, thriller needs less than $2 million to eclipse “Men in Black” and “Batman,” and claim the No. 13 spot.

Strong week for exclusives

Disney also fared well with “The Straight Story,” the tale of an elderly Iowa man’s trek to Wisconsin riding on a lawnmower. It averaged $13,477 on each of seven screens in Gotham, Chi and Los Angeles for a total of $96,000.

G-rated pic was helmed by the often off-kilter David Lynch. Mouse House will add 30 screens on Friday, many in flyover markets such as Beertown, near the film’s setting.

Steven Soderbergh’s noir outing “The Limey” pocketed $230,000, according to Artisan. It’s on 40 screens, up from 17 in last week’s debut. Cume for the Terence Stamp-Peter Fonda starrer is about $500,000.

Miramax more than tripled the screens for “Happy, Texas” to 134, yet gross doubled to $330,000 for a cume of $702,000. Per-screen average of $2,460 was roughly half of the week-ago total.

Another small Miramax film, “That’s the Way I Like It,” grabbed $9,500 on three screens.

Thesp Frank Whaley’s helming debut, “Joe the King,” collected $5,912 from two sites, according to ACNielsen EDI. Trimark’s pic stars Val Kilmer, Ethan Hawke, John Leguizamo and Camryn Manheim.

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