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Hopkins starrer still the chomp

Crowd of openers can't slay U's 'Dragon'

A crush of new releases proved no drag on “Red Dragon,” as Universal’s latest Hannibal Lecter thriller bit into a weekend-topping $17.6 million in estimated soph-sesh box office.

Three limited release pics — the Adam Sandler starrer “Punch Drunk Love,” Michael Moore’s docu “Bowling for Columbine” and Jerry Seinfeld’s tour pic “Comedian” — all bowed impressively. Madonna’s “Swept Away,” however, was swept aside.

Disney’s Reese Witherspoon starrer “Sweet Home Alabama” finished second in its third frame with an estimated $14.1 million, while Fox Searchlight’s “Brown Sugar” had the sweetest perf among weekend wide openers with $11.1 million in third place. And 20th Century Fox’s bowing “Transporter” cruised into fourth with $9.2 million.

Elswehere, Warners Bros. femme-drama “White Oleander” grossed $5.7 million in seventh place, and Disney’s family fantasy “Tuck Everlasting” opened with $5.5 million in eighth.

New Line had high hopes for “Knockaround Guys,” but bowing Vin Diesel starrer got knocked around by new guys and older releases alike in grossing just $5 million in ninth.

Lions Gate’s “Rules of Attraction,” the film adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, failed even to crack the weekend top 10. “Rules” attracted an estimated $2.4 million.

Crowded sesh also saw several limited bows, including a few truly boffo perfs.

‘Love’ scores

Top success among them was clearly Sony/Revolution’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” which grossed $380,000 from just five screens in Gotham, L.A and Toronto, or a mind-bending $76,000 per site. “Punch-Drunk,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, broadens incrementally over the next three frames to hit wide release by Nov. 1.

“It’s a wonderful start,” Revolution Studios partner Tom Sherak said.

“This is about as good as it gets,” agreed Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake.

United Artists’ gun-culture docu “Bowling for Columbine” grossed $206,000 from eight Gotham and L.A. theaters, or an amazing $25,750 per venue. “Columbine” expands to 30 locations in nine markets Friday.

And Miramax’s Seinfeld road-tour docu “Comedian” grossed $61,000 from only four New York and L.A. theaters, or an impressive $15,250 per venue. “Comedian” tickles top 20 markets Oct. 25.

Miramax’s Dimension unit bowed suspenser “Below” in 168 Gotham and L.A. locations and grossed $200,000, or a disappointing $1,200 per site a week before a skedded expansion to 400 runs in top 20 markets.

And distrib’s “Pokemon Forever” tooner opened with 249 playdates and grossed $675,000, or $2,710 per engagement. Expansion isn’t expected prior to release in homevid.

‘Swept’ off

Sony Screen Gems debuted drama “Swept Away” with 196 runs this weekend and grossed $375,000. Perf repped an under-performing $1,913 per location.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Paramount Classics widened Northern Ireland drama “Bloody Sunday” by nine theaters for a total 11 and grossed $58,000, or $4,462 per venue. Pic, currently playing in Gotham and three other cities, enters additional markets including L.A. on Friday for about 40 total runs.

Goldwyn/Fireworks’ Andy Garcia-Mick Jagger starrer “The Man from Elysian Fields” added 21 runs for a total 42 and grossed $126,299, or $3,007 per site with a $326,421 cume.

Disney drama “Moonlight Mile” stretched by three theaters for a total 437 to ring up $1.1 million, or $2,538 per location with a $4 million cume.

UA laffer “Igby Goes Down” upped its engagements by four to a total 155 in grossing $448,000, or $2,889 per venue with a $3.3 million cume.

And Thinkfilm’s Italian-lingo drama “The Last Kiss” held 25 engagements and grossed $45,000, or $1,800 per playdate with an $825,000 cume.

Weekend grosses up

Industrywide, the weekend managed a healthy 20% uptick from the same frame a year ago with $104 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2002 is 13% ahead of the same portion of last year at $6.96 billion in total grosses.

A super-wide opening for “Dragon” last weekend almost pre-ordained Anthony Hopkins starrer’s unsavory 52% drop this frame. But repeat win left execs more than happy nonetheless.

“It’s always wonderful to be No. 1, especially when you have so many films opening against you,” U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco said.

She added that the big drop wasn’t unexpected. “You have to categorize this as a genre film, and genre films do drop more than most pictures,” Rocco observed.

Fox Searchlight distrib topper Steve Giulula called the “Sugar” bow “just terrific.”

He added that while pic — helmed by Rick Famuyiwa (“The Wood”) — played mostly to African American audiences, favorable reactions among other patrons indicates crossover potential.

‘Transporter’ terrific

Fox distrib boss Bruce Snyder said he was “very pleased” with the opening for “Transporter,” originally skedded as a September release before getting bumped to allow further promotion.

“It was a terrific opening on a crowded weekend,” Snyder said.

“Transporter” skewed 63% male, with patrons even split above and below age 25, he said.

Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman said the bow for lit-adaptation “White Oleander” was “less than anticipated.” But star-studded pic played mostly to older femmes and thus could display strong weekday legs, Fellman added.

Mouse House execs were satisfied with opening for “Tuck Everlasting,” which enjoyed a per-theater average second only to “Sugar” among frame wide openers. “Tuck” plucked an average $4,658 from each of 1,185 theaters — the smallest run among wide openers.

Pre-weekend tracking surveys had rated “Knockaround Guys” the strongest of frame openers, so New Line acknowledged disappointment with pic’s underwhelming launch.

“We had hoped that it would have done better,” spokesman John Smith allowed.

Artisan soph-sesher “Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie” fell from the top 10 this weekend. But Bible-themed tooner enjoyed a modest 39% drop from its opening with an estimated $3.8 million and a 10-day cume of $11.1 million.

Three pics bow wide next weekend including DreamWorks’ horror pic “The Ring,” Paramount drama “Abandon” and Sony Screen Gems’ actioner “Formula 51.”

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