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B.O. ‘Heart’ attack

Lion laffer tops; Oscar-nommed pix surge

MGM’s lovable-grifters laffer, “Heartbreakers,” conned its way into the affections of Oscar-weekend auds with an estimated $12.3 million over three days.

Sony Classics’ “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and USA Films’ “Traffic,” which mounted successful commercial crossovers amid Oscar-nom notoriety, capped those platformed campaigns with weekend rankings of No. 5 and No. 7, respectively.

“Crouching Tiger” added 167 theaters for a total 2,207, grossing $4.7 million and pushing cume to a foreign-language record $106.3 million. “Traffic” added only two engagements at 1,684 but caught a 19% weekend-to-weekend updraft with $3.9 million in new grosses and a cume of $107.7 million.

Miramax’s “Chocolat,” also cooking up a specialty-to-commercial recipe, added 120 locations for a total 1,781 to finish No. 8 with $43.3 million in weekend box office and a $60.6 million cume.

No. 2 this weekend was Sony Screen Gems’ urban comedy, “The Brothers,” with an estimated $10.7 million. Pic played in only 1,378 theaters — compared with 2,750 for “Heartbreakers” — so distrib is stoked that fraternal love will spread from core African-American moviegoers to broader auds.

The weekend’s other wide bow, Farrelly brothers-produced laffer “Say It Isn’t So,” had distrib 20th Century Fox muttering just such phrases as estimated grosses totaled only $3.1 million in 10th place. Bad reviews and iffy content — which tried to have fun with the subject of incest — conspired against R-rated gross-out pic, believed produced for just under $30 million.

“Exit Wounds,” Warner Bros.’ Steven Seagal-DMX police actioner that debuted at No. 1 in its rookie frame, dropped an arresting 50% but still managed a No. 3 perf this weekend with an estimated $9.2 million. Cume hit $32.6 million as the Village Roadshow co-prod continued to play in 2,830 locations.

And Paramount’s “Enemy at the Gates,” a World War II drama with Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes, went from a previous No. 2 bow to a No. 4 ranking in its second frame at $9.2 million. Distrib wanted to add at least 200 engagements for the Mandalay co-prod but managed only 168 for a total 1,677.

Among specialty pics, Newmarket’s Guy Pearce starrer, “Memento,” gained momentum with another $234,005 in 12 Gotham and L.A. theaters for a memorable $19,500 average and $586,248 cume a week before moving into other top markets.

Warner’s quirky Aussie laffer, “The Dish,” grossed $58,383 in six New York, L.A. and Toronto locations for a nifty $9,730 average and $172,855 cume.

And Eros’ “American Desi” romancer wooed $282,000 from 37 major-market engagements for a heartfelt $7,622 average and $662,000 cume.

Industrywide, the weekend marked the third consecutive drop in year-to-year comparisons after a strong start in 2001. Estimated grosses were down almost 8% at $80 million.

In the same frame last year, Warners’ “Romeo Must Die” debuted strongly with $18.8 million, and Universal’s “Erin Brockavich’ continued to roll one weekend after bowing with $28.1 million.

Year-to-date, 2001 is still 13% ahead of the same period last year at $1.66 billion.

“Heartbreakers” marks the first studio co-prod for Winchester Films. Winchester picked up 60% of a roughly $35 million negative cost in exchange for international rights to the Jennifer Love Hewitt-Sigourney Weaver-Gene Hackman starrer.

Perf repped the second consecutive No. 1 opening for MGM, following distrib’s chart-topping “Hannibal” bow. That’s the first time the Lion has managed such a feat since 1995, when its “Get Shorty” laffer and “Goldeneye” James Bond pic each debuted on top.

John Davis, who produced the pic with Irving Ong, noted upbeat exit data from sneak preview auds had bode well for the pic.

“It was a real playable movie, which is why we sneaked it a couple of weekends,” Davis said. “We’re really pleased with these results, especially on an Oscar weekend.”

“Heartbreakers” played 60% female, with auds evenly split above and below age 25, MGM distrib prexy Larry Gleason said.

“We’re right where we wanted to be, and it’s positioned to run somewhere in the $40 million to $50 million range,” Gleason estimated.

Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake said “The Brothers” will try to build on its niche success.

“We feel this was a picture that was an absolute home run with African-American audiences,” Blake said. “But we think it’s going to spill over as well. We played to a sweet spot, and it was very sweet indeed.”

Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder made no attempt to spin the abysmal numbers for “Say It Isn’t So.” “It’s very disappointing,” he said. “We expected far better.”

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