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$15M fuels ‘Rules’

Par's military pic marches past 'Erin' at B.O.

Paramount’s military drama “Rules of Engagement” strafed an eclectic squadron of weekend rivals, grossing a studio-estimated $15.3 million to unseat three-week champ “Erin Brockovich.” Universal’s Julia Roberts starrer had the best hold of any major release, slipping just 27% with $10.1 million.

While “Rules” didn’t set any records, and launched less forcefully than many distribs expected, its win is Par’s first weekend title of 2000. Muscle provided by stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson should give Par momentum leading up to its next release, Memorial Day tentpole “Mission: Impossible 2.”

“There’s a lot of volume in the marketplace, so to stand out like this is really something,” said Par distrib chief Wayne Lewellen.

Indeed, three other pics bowed during the frame and in the top 10, only DreamWorks’ “American Beauty” is more than a month old. Consequently, the average number of playdates for top pics was a healthy 2,200.

Rest of B.O. mixed

“Rules” aside, results were mixed for rookies. MGM’s “Return to Me” and Warner Bros.’ “Ready to Rumble” performed as expected. “Black and White” failed to make the top 10, grossing $2.3 million in 1,284 locations. Sony’s ensemble race-themed pic looks to be a break-even prospect at best.

Overall business reflected that jumble of mediocre titles of late. ACNielsen EDI put the weekend take at $85 million, up fractionally from the $84.4 million posted in the same span a year ago.

‘Erin’ holds her own

“Erin Brockovich” may have surrendered the top spot, but U’s reality-based drama continues to show fetching legs. Still in 3,005 locations and boasting an $89.9 million cume, pic should continue to parlay critical prestige and Roberts’ B.O. mojo into ticket sales during this typically fallow spring.

U also got some relief in the 42% drop of “The Skulls,” which was respectable for a teen suspenser. Fifth-place weekend total of $6.4 million brings cume to $20.2 million.

On the teen scene, though, “Skulls” doesn’t appear to have the staying power of New Line’s “Final Destination,” which fell a scant 28% to boost cume to $34 million.

DreamWorks’ toon “The Road to El Dorado” retained third place in its sophomore frame, dipping 30% and taking in $8.9 million. But with a $25 million cume to date, it’ll struggle to reach $50 million, despite having the family market in April all to itself.

Solid ‘Return’

MGM, on the wide-release sidelines since January’s disastrous “Supernova,” registered a solid $8 million on “Return to Me,” good for fourth place. Romantic comedy starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver averaged $3,986 per location, second only to “Rules.”

Romance trumped wrestling in the comedy department, as Warners’ “Ready to Rumble” managed just a sixth-place bow, with $5.6 million.

Disney, the market share leader thus far in 2000, had a subdued week, as “High Fidelity” retreated a predictable 34% in its second week. Studio is eagerly awaiting Friday’s launch of “Keeping the Faith,” the romantic comedy helmed by and starring Ed Norton.

Disney maintains ‘Faith’

Mouse House ran 900 sneaks of pic, which also features Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman, and execs say theaters were 75% full. Core age group was 25-50 and 60% of preview auds were female. About 91% of auds gave a “very good” or “excellent” rating for the pic, which opens Friday in at least 2,000 sites.

On the limited-release front, Disney also made news, as large-format “Fantasia 2000” passed the $40 million mark. Weekend take of $1.8 million brings cume to $40.2 domestic and $52.2 worldwide.

Other limited titles endured a spotty frame. Sony Classics’ “East-West” fared best, grossing $58,251 on one screen in Gotham and four in L.A. Average of $11,650 bodes well for the Russo-Franc drama by helmer of Oscar-winning “Indochine.”

Sony Classics’ other debut, “Me Myself I” sputtered in nine Gotham and L.A. locations, collecting $28,601.

USA had its troubles with “Joe Gould’s Secret.” Stanley Tucci pic co-starring Ian Holm did $38,004 in five theaters, two in Gotham and three in L.A.

Fine Line’s Sex Pistols docu “The Filth and the Fury” continued at the Film Forum and added Chicago’s new Landmark Century Centre. Three-day tally was $20,000, a third of which came from Chi.

Fox Searchlight’s “Boys Don’t Cry” keeps cashing in on Hilary Swank’s Oscar win. In its 27th week, drama declined just 29%, bringing in $702,000 from 362 theaters. On Friday, cume reached $10 million, with execs estimating $10.4 million by Sunday night.

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