U laffer, Rush' go 1-2 for 3rd week

“American Pie 2″ choked down $12.8 million in estimated weekend box office, as Universal laffer outpaced five wide openers and New Line’s still-strong “Rush Hour 2″ to become first pic in four months to finish No. 1 three times.

“Rush 2″ parked in second place for a third straight sesh with an estimated $11.4 million.

Of the bowing pics, Miramax’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” performed best with roughly $11.1 million in third place. “Jay and Silent Bob,” repping the latest hijinks laffer from helmer Kevin Smith, was produced for an estimated $22 million.

Warner Bros.’ teen romancer “Summer Catch” caught $7.5 million in estimated opening B.O. in sixth place, while Sony’s John Carpenter sci-fi actioner “The Ghosts of Mars” scared up $3.8 million in ninth position.

DreamWorks’ Woody Allen laffer “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and Disney’s romantic comedy “Bubble Boy” bowed out of the top 10, with estimated weekend B.O. of $2.5 million and $2 million, respectively.

Industrywide, the estimated $94 million in total B.O. repped a 2% improvement from the same frame a year ago.

Summer 2001 is 11% ahead of last year with a total $2.79 billion in B.O. headed into the season-ending Labor Day frame. And in a year-to-date comparison, ’01 is up 9% over 2000 with $5.44 billion so far.

Three-peat drought doused

Though “Pie 2″ repped the first three-time No. 1 pic since a March-April spurt for Miramax/Dimension’s “Spy Kids,” perf for U laffer compared with a stronger $17.4 million weekend for distrib’s “Bring It On” in the same sesh last year. And the latest weekend was off a whopping 18% from B.O. totals just a week ago.

Tom Borys, prexy of B.O. tracker ACNielsen, noted some 40% of the nation’s school kids were back in classrooms by Friday.

“It’s safe to say that’s part of the reason the brakes have been hit,” Borys observed.

Miramax marketing veep David Kaminow said the “great opening” for “Jay and Silent Bob” was nonetheless hampered by Smith fans’ patronizing pic sneaks the previous weekend. Marketing will try to build on core constituency in future frames.

Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman said he was “very pleased” with perf for distrib’s Freddie Prinze Jr. starrer, which exit interviews showed skewing 58% female among auds almost entirely under age 25.

Sony execs acknowledged mild disappointment in bow for “Ghosts of Mars.” But with an estimated $28 million negative cost, it’s expected pic still will prove profitable.

“Jade Scorpion,” an even more modestly budgeted pic, could turn a profit by grossing in the low double-digit millions domestically. But “Bubble Boy,” produced at an estimated $13 million, will look to ancillary markets to recup even that modest investment.

Meanwhile, pics at the top of the B.O. table are already well into the profitable range.

“Pie 2,” produced for an estimated $30 million, has grossed $109.6 million already. And “RH2,” carrying a $90 million negative cost, is eyeing $200 million domestically with a $183.3 million cume to date.

Miramax/Dimension’s Nicole Kidman starrer “The Others,” a co-prod with Spanish film concern Sogecine, seems another clear recent winner. Pic had an estimated production budget of $17 million, and its fourth-place gross of $8.6 million this weekend brings suspenser’s cume to $46.2 million.

And Disney’s “The Princess Diaries,” which pencils in an estimated $26 million negative cost, grossed $6.7 million in seventh place for a royal fourth-week cume of $82.5 million.

Still in the ‘Race’

Among a handful of weak openers held over from the previous weekend, Paramount’s “Rat Race” laffer appears something of a winning tortoise. Posting a mimimal 29% drop from opening grosses for a $8.3 million soph sesh B.O., modestly budgeted Jerry and Janet Zucker pic boasts a 10-day cume of $25.6 million.

By contrast, U’s “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” fell 46% to $3.9 million in eighth place. Nicolas Cage-Penelope Cruz starrer was produced for an estimated $57 million, with U and corporate cousin Canal Plus absorbing two-thirds of the costs and foreign rights partner Miramax the balance.

In a limited opening this weekend, Goldwyn/IDP’s “Tortilla Soup” laffer grossed an estimated $670,640 in 202 big-city locations for a so-so $3,320 average. Gotham bow is set for Friday.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Fox Searchlight’s murder drama “The Deep End” dove into $1.2 million in expanding 150 playdates to a total 208. That repped an enviable $5,890 per location and brings cume to $2.6 million.

United Artists’ black comedy “Ghost World” grossed $368,000 in unspooling in another 10 venues for a total 64. Perf delivered a solid $5,754 per-venue average and $2.5 million cume.

Artisan’s “Made” made another $250,000 from 167 engagements. Though its per-theater average dropped to a wobbly $1,500, mob laffer moves cume to a notable $4.1 million.

Miramax’s “Apocalypse Now Redux” grossed $387,000 in 66 locations for a sturdy $5,863 average, as extended-cut version of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War classic raises cume to $2 million.

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