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‘Erin’ shows off legs

'Brockovich' steamrolls toon 'Road' for 3rd B.O. win

This article was corrected on April 11, 2000.

Whatever the marketplace throws at “Erin Brockovich” — teen action, sci-fi, adult comedy, family animation — the Universal drama not only defeats it but uses it as fuel.

Julia Roberts starrer vanquished four debuting pics and a sophomore hopeful over the weekend, piling up a studio-estimated $14.2 million and a third straight weekend win.

Although it had 300 more screens than “Brockovich,” DreamWorks’ toon, “The Road to El Dorado,” stumbled to a second-place bow with $12.5 million. D’Works’ only other toon pics, “The Prince of Egypt” (Dec. 1998) and “Antz” (Oct. 1998), bowed to $14.3 mil and $16.8 mil, respectively.

With U’s “Skulls” opening to $11.4 million, studio has two of the top three pics for the first time since last May’s twin hits “The Mummy” and “Notting Hill.”

“We knew from the beginning with ‘Erin’ that we were in it for the long haul,” said Universal distrib chief Nikki Rocco.

Steady at the top

In winning a third straight frame, “Brockovich” broke no records. (Just a few weeks ago, Warner Bros.’ “The Whole Nine Yards” pulled off the same trifecta.) Neither does the legal drama seem destined to topple “Pretty Woman” as the best Roberts grosser.

Yet two elements of pic’s success make its rapid ascent to $100 million and beyond all the more striking. First, it’s reality-based — the trait some blamed for the lackluster B.O. and Oscar washout by U’s “The Hurricane.” Also, it was directed by decidedly non-commercial helmer Steven Soderbergh.

With “Brockovich” streamrolling on, dipping just 23% and sporting a $76.2 million cume, U execs also cheered the results of “The Skulls.” PG-13 drama about a secret society cashed in on appeal of “Dawson’s Creek” star Joshua Jackson and feel for teen auds by helmer Rob Cohen.

In exchange for foreign rights, producer Neal Moritz chipped in $5 million of pic’s estimated $16 million negative cost.

True meaning of the phrase “negative cost” was coming all too clear for DreamWorks and “El Dorado.” Neither spring release slot nor super-wide launch on 3,218 screens augured well for the toon, which was developed in house over several years.

Despite boasting voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh and Rosie Perez, plus songs by Elton John, pic failed to reach broad demos.

“We thought it might cross over a bit more than it did,” said DreamWorks distrib head Jim Tharp. Evening business Friday and Saturday was fairly slack, he added.

‘Beauty’ bounty

News was far better for DreamWorks on Oscar darling “American Beauty.” In its 29th week, pic hit its widest release point yet, 1,990 screens. Estimated take of $5.8 million repped a 44% surge over last week’s figure, which itself was up 25%.

Tally since five wins on Oscar night is about $8 million, boosting cume to $117 million. This week, it’ll pass “Rocky” to become No. 8 on the gross rankings of best pic Oscar winners.

In fairness, “El Dorado” hardly turned in the weekend’s worst bow. That dubious honor belonged to New Line’s Latino boxing saga “Price of Glory.” Jimmy Smits starrer couldn’t lay a glove on the top 10, punching up $1.5 million on 802 screens, for a bantamweight average of $1,870.

Similarly modest in its opening-weekend screen count, Disney’s “High Fidelity” fared better. Music-themed dramedy posted $6.4 million of payola from 1,183 runs, leading all wide-players with $5,414 per screen.

A week after battling “Brockovich” for the top spot, Warners’ “Romeo Must Die” drank a vial of B.O. poison. Martial arts actioner slid 46% and wound up fourth with $9.7 million. At $39.1 million, however, pic is headed toward $55 million territory and should keep producer Joel Silver’s hit streak alive.

Fox and Sony rounded out the top 10, tying with $2.4 million for “Here on Earth” and “Whatever it Takes.”

Sony needn’t dwell on “Whatever’s” puny $7.5 million cume. Studio instead can focus on this week’s overseas launch of “Brockovich,” whose foreign rights it acquired along with those of U’s “The Bone Collector.”

‘Faith’ sneaks in

Disney, similarly, isn’t crowing excessively about its current chart resident “High Fidelity.” Instead it’s eyeing Ed Norton’s helming debut, “Keeping the Faith.”

About 300 sneaks of the pic, which stars Norton, Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman, were 70% full and feedback was quite positive, execs said. Wider sneaks are due this weekend, ahead of April 14 launch.

Mouse House also pointed to a historic step up by “Toy Story 2.” With nearly $243 million in the U.S. to date, Pixar toon has knocked “Raiders of the Lost Ark” out of the No. 16 all-time spot. Next up is “Men In Black” at No. 15, with $250.7 million.

Two limited releases reported modestly strong openings.

Sony Classics’ “The Color of Paradise” pulled in $29,369. Iranian pic averaged $5,874 on five screens in L.A. and Gotham.

Fine Line’s “The Filth and the Fury,” a Sex Pistols docu directed by Julien Temple, didn’t exactly cause anarchy in Lower Manhattan when it opened Wednesday. But $12,000 from one screen — $18,000 over five days — was no bollocks.

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