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Olympics meddle with skidding B.O.

DreamWorks' 'Famous' rocks per-screen

G’day autumn doldrums.

With the Sydney Olympics siphoning off movie auds, weekend B.O. skidded to a three-year low. Universal’s Keanu Reeves thriller “The Watcher” repeated as No. 1, but the bigger news is that year-to-date grosses have now slipped behind 1999’s pace.

Estimated $5.7 million take for Interlight-produced thriller is the lowest number for a weekend winner since January 1997.

If ACNielsen EDI’s overall estimate of $54 million holds true, frame would be the weakest since Sept. 12-14, 1997. Business fell 32% from the same frame in 1999, the eighth straight weekend year-to-year decline.

Only powerful release was DreamWorks’ “Almost Famous,” which launched with $2.3 million on just 131 screens in 10 markets. Including Wednesday and Thursday grosses on two screens, cume is $2.4 million.

Weekend average of $17,550 is a rosy sign for the pic, helmer Cameron Crowe’s first since “Jerry Maguire.”

DreamWorks distrib chief Jim Tharp predicts the R-rated 1970s rock ‘n’ roll tale will reach about 1,800-2,000 playdates when it goes wide Sept. 29. He isn’t sure yet how many screens will be added this weekend.

“It’s a huge number for September,” Tharp noted. “So we’re definitely going to expand it as much as we can.”

Other debuts didn’t rock nearly as hard.

Warner Bros.’ Jamie Fox starrer “Bait” finished a close second to “The Watcher” with a studio-estimated $5.5 million. Disney’s “Duets,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by father Bruce Paltrow, mustered just $2 million from 581 locations.

“We hope audiences find this movie,” WB distrib chief Dan Fellman said of “Bait.” “It’s a tough weekend. Last year we were coming into the fall with summer hits that played through September. Not this year.”

Total B.O. is around $5.3 billion thus far in 2000, roughly flat with 1999. But Sunday’s estimates suggest a $1 million year-to-year deficit –negligible in percentage terms but noteworthy as the first time this year the B.O. has been in the red.

USA Films’ “Nurse Betty” notched a decent hold, slipping 32% and grossing $4.7 million. Comedy has cumed $13.6 million.

The heady grosses of summer seem like distant memories. But a quartet of hot-weather pics have managed to last long enough to thrive in the current soft conditions.

Upside for ‘Beneath’

DreamWorks’ “What Lies Beneath” rolled on with another $2.6 million, down just 7%, bring its tally to $145.7 million. Fellow July release “Scary Movie” from Miramax returned to wide release, hitting 1,997 engagements from just 373 last weekend. Gross of $2 million boosts cume to $151.7 million.

U’s “Bring It On” pom-pommed past the $50 million mark, adding $5.1 million and retreating just 25%.

Warners’ August juggernaut “Space Cowboys” may struggle to reach $100 million, but another $2.5 million, down 24%, suggests it’ll get close. Clint Eastwood pic has collected $82.2 million to date.

A dozen art pics opened, mostly to the same indifference greeting major-studio fare.

Sony Classics’ “Goya in Bordeaux” posted $48,350 on five screens, averaging $9,670.

‘Strangers’ average friendly

Holocaust docu “Into the Arms of Strangers” parlayed stellar reviews into strong debut numbers. In five theaters, Warners’ pic averaged $6,400 for a total of $32,000.

United Artists’ contempo Dostoyevsky-based drama “Crime and Punishment in Suburbia” reaped just $10,000 from five screens.

Arrow Entertainment bowed “30 Days” and took in $8,500 at two Gotham sites. Same company’s “The Autumn Heart” totaled $3,500 at one Beantown locale.

“Urbania” fetched $77,000 on 10 screens for Lions Gate.

‘Grace’ nears $10 mil

Ongoing titles offered no surprises. “Saving Grace” is approaching the magical $10 million plateau for Fine Line. Marijuana comedy grossed $900,000, or $1,030 in each of its 874 head shops. Cume stands at $9.7 million. Same distrib’s “An Affair of Love” managed $40,000 to put cume at $300,000.

Paramount Classics’ “The Girl on the Bridge” recorded $98,000 in 46 venues, averaging $2,130 and sending cume to $1.1 million. Setting “Sunshine” contributed another $68,000 and should reach $6 million in another week or so.

Stratosphere/IDP’s “Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire” took in $15,000 on one screen to reach $40,000 overall.

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