'The Recruit' edges New Line horror sequel

This article was updated at 9:00 p.m.

Disney sleuther “The Recruit” captured the box office flag this weekend with an estimated $16.5 million, as second place proved the final perch for New Line horror pic “Final Destination 2″ in a $16.2 million bow.

A third opener, DreamWorks’ Laurence Fishburne actioner “Biker Boyz,” rode to third place in low gear with $10.1 million.

Warner Bros./Castle Rock’s family laffer “Kangaroo Jack” hopped into fourth with a bouncy $9 million over its third sesh. Sony/Revolution soph-sesher “Darkness Falls” fell four rungs into fifth place this weekend, despite a moderate 38% drop from last frame.

And Miramax’s leggy platformer “Chicago” was sixth with $7.1 million. Critically acclaimed musical still has just 623 engagements (a whopping $11,461 per), with expansion north of 1,000 playdates set for Friday.

Universal/Working Title posted a notable limited release this weekend with Bollywood-themed laffer “The Guru.”

Toplined by Marisa Tomei, Heather Graham and Jimi Mistry, “Guru” channeled $648,000 from 62 theaters — an impressive $10,450 per venue. An expansion is set for Valentine’s Day weekend but doubling the number of markets to 20 still won’t get “Guru” into wide release nirvana just yet.

“It needs to be nurtured,” U distrib Nikki Rocco said. “For some films, a slow rollout is really needed, (and this) is a word of mouth movie.”

Miramax’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” — which finally reached wide release last weekend, its fourth in release — fell from the top 10 this sesh.

Chuck Barris biopic grossed $4.3 million on a 26% weekend-to-weekend drop. The “Confessions” tumble was cushioned a bit by support from “Chicago” sneak previews, which were attached to the Sam Rockwell starrer.

New Line hot

In addition to “Destination 2,” hot New Line also had two other pics in the top 10 this weekend.

Leggy phenom “The Lord of the Rings: The Towers” hung on at No. 7 with $5 million, pushing its cume to $315.9 million. That means that in just 46 days “Two Towers” has surpassed the $313 million domestic total for franchise original “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

And distrib’s platforming Jack Nicholson starrer “About Schmidt” finished 10th on the frame, with $4.7 million over its eighth weekend in release for a $44.4 million cume.

Industrywide, the weekend’s $116 million in total estimated grosses repped a 17% uptick from the same frame last year, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2003 is off 22% at $608.5 million, largely because the corresponding portion of last year had one more weekend.

‘Lost’ munches B.O.

In another limited bow this sesh, IFC Films unspooled docu “Lost in La Mancha” in eight Gotham, L.A. and Bay Area locations and grossed $57,622, or a sturdy $7,203 per site. Pic — which tells of Terry Gilliam’s doom-filled efforts at shooting a “Don Quixote” movie — adds 10 more markets Feb. 14.

Elsewhere in the specialty segment, Paramount awards-magnet “The Hours” added 46 engagements for a total 548 and grossed $3.2 million, or $5,748 per playdate; cume is $18.6 million. Par plans to broaden “Hours” more substantially the weekend after Academy Award noms are announced on Feb. 11.

Sony Classics held in 82 theaters with Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” this sesh and grossed $344,448, or $4,201 per venue; cume is $4.4 million.

Disney execs were clearly thrilled with the No. 1 showing for “The Recruit,” helmed by Roger Donaldson (“Dante’s Peak”). Chart-topping debut comes just a week prior to the higher-profile bow of Mouse’s “Shanghai Knights” actioner.

“I can not tell you how happy I am,” Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane said. “Part of the magic of this picture is that it’s such a smart movie, with all of its (plot) twists and turns.”

‘Destination’ arrival

New Line distrib prexy David Tuckerman said the solid bow for “Destination 2″ contributed greatly to the company’s festive frame. Pic well surpassed its progenitor’s bow, as the original “Destination,” when unspooled in March 2000, grossed $10 million.

“We’re really happy this weekend,” Tuckerman enthused.

DreamWorks said the “Biker Boyz” debut was in line with expectations. “It was in the range of what we were projecting,” distrib boss Jim Tharp said.

Looking to next weekend, there will be two other wide openers competing with Disney’s “Knights”: Paramount’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” a romantic comedy toplined by Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, and Focus Features’ “Deliver Us From Eva,” an urban romancer.

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