‘Erin’ tops ‘Romeo’

Roberts starrer edges WB actioner with $19 mil

And the Oscar weekend B.O. title goes to … “Erin Brockovich.”

Universal’s reality-based drama notched a second straight win, grossing a studio-estimated $19 million to narrowly fend off Warner Bros.’ new actioner “Romeo Must Die.”

Healthy receipts of two top pics with divergent demographics drove overall weekend take to almost $90 million, ACNielsen EDI estimated. That’s up 24% over the $72.6 million recorded in the same frame a year ago.

Lead perf by B.O. heavyweight Julia Roberts is propelling “Brockovich.” More than a few critics believe the role will land her beaucoup kudos a year from now. With a cume at $56.3 after just 10 days, Steven Soderbergh-lensed pic figures to be Roberts’ happiest commercial and critical marriage since “Pretty Woman.”

Buildup for the 2001 Oscar race can wait, though, at least for a few days. As for this year’s crop, DreamWorks’ “American Beauty,” Miramax’s “The Cider House Rules” and Fox Searchlight’s “Boys Don’t Cry” all enjoyed a surge of business before Sunday’s ceremony.

“Beauty” brought in $3.9 million, up 25% from last week, while “Cider House” gained 13% to pocket $2.8 million. Biz on “Boys” spiked 51% to total $773,000, or an average of $2,712 at 285 sites. Cume is $7.9 million.

Aside from the surprising “Romeo,” debuts were fairly drab –and not easy for casual moviegoers to tell apart.

Fox launched “Here on Earth,” a teen romance tale starring Leelee Sobieski and Chris Klein that collected $4.6 million.

Sony launched “Whatever It Takes,” a teen romance tale starring James Franc and Marla Sokoloff that collected $4.3 million. (Latter studio did manage to stand out from the pack in one key respect: It has foreign rights to “Brockovich,” which will bow in several territories on April 6.)

‘Romeo’ likes Oscar

While the female-skewing “Brockovich” figured to lose a significant chunk of its usual Sunday business due to the Oscar telecast, no such fate was expected for “Romeo.”

The hip-hop martial arts actioner, produced by Joel Silver, cashed in thanks to the staunch support of older teens and other sub-25s. Auds were split evenly between males and females, according to Warners distrib chief Dan Fellman.

After a powerful Wednesday opening of $4.1 million, “Romeo” seemed to have a legitimate shot at unseating “Brockovich.” Its bow was the No. 2 Wednesday ever recorded between January and April, behind another Silver production, “The Matrix.”

‘Destination’ desirable

Considering how much of its core demo got siphoned off by “Romeo,” 30% slide for New Line’s sophomore “Final Destination” was laudable. Cume for supernatural thriller is $20.3 million, which looks good when you consider how green (read: affordable) much of the cast is.

In the race for third place, “Destination” edged out Disney’s “Mission to Mars.” Brian De Palma’s sci-fi actioner, the clear champ two weeks ago, swooned another 48%.

Opening in limited release, USA’s “Waking the Dead” scored with critics but failed to click commercially. Drama starring Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly summoned $162,983 on 62 screens for an average of $2,628.

Artisan’s ongoing “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai” took in about $400,000 at 109 locations.

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