'Bangkok Dangerous' on top with modest take

The fall box office got off to its shakiest start in years as Danny and Oxide Pang’s Nicolas Cage hitman actioner “Bangkok Dangerous” barely beat holdover comedy “Tropic Thunder.”

The R-rated “Bangkok Dangerous,” distributed by Lionsgate, grossed an estimated $7.8 million as it bowed in 2,650 theaters. “Tropic Thunder,” which has enjoyed notably strong legs, declined 35% in its fourth frame to an estimated $7.5 million from 3,446. Cume is $96.8 million.

Weak sesh came just as studio specialty arms and indie distribs like Lionsgate gathered at the Toronto Film Festival to launch their key fall releases, such as the Coen brothers’ “Burn After Reading,” which opens next weekend. The film biz is counting on the pic to re-energize the box office.

“The Women,” the last Picturehouse title, also opens Friday. Picturehouse’s Bob Berney was in Toronto for the fest, although the pic did not play there.

The first weekend after Labor Day is always sluggish, but this year the frame was affected by the start of the NFL football season and was particularly dreary. Total ticket sales at the domestic B.O. are estimated at $64 million-$66 million for the weekend, making it the softest in eight years. In 2000, ticket sales came in at $61.7 million. After that, 2003 was the worst, bringing in just north of $67 million.

The weekend was down as much as 17% from the same frame a year ago, when Lionsgate saw strong success with prestige title “3:10 to Yuma,” which opened to $14 million.

“Bangkok Dangerous” is the Pang brothers’ English-language remake of their Thai film. Their last English-language outing was “The Messengers,” which opened to $14.7 million.

Lionsgate said “Bangkok Dangerous,” the only new release of the weekend, performed in line with expectations. Studio acquired the project for domestic distribution and also put up marketing coin.

“It will be a nicely profitable film for us,” Lionsgate distribution topper Steve Rothenberg said.

In September, Lionsgate’s Cage starrer “Lord of War” debuted to $9.4 million on its way to cuming $24.1 million domestically.

“Bangkok Dangerous” played heavily male, or 58%, while 46% of the audience was between the ages of 20 and 30.

Overseas, “Bangkok Dangerous” has earned $5 million in France and Spain. It was set to bow in Russia over the weekend.

Elsewhere at the domestic box office, two female-skewing pics continued to please. Sony’s Anna Faris laffer “The House Bunny” placed No. 3 for the weekend. Film declined a slim 29% in its third frame to an estimated $5.9 million from 2,736 screens for a cume of $37 million. In its eighth frame, Universal’s “Mamma Mia!” placed No. 9, declining just 36% to an estimated $2.7 million from 1,904; cume is $136.3 million.

Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” continued its boffo run, coming in at No. 4. Also in its eighth weekend, “Dark Knight” dipped a slim 34% to an estimated $5.7 million from 2,575 for a cume of $512.2 million.

Adult-leaning political thriller “Traitor,” from Overture Films, came in No. 5 in its second frame. The Don Cheadle-Guy Pearce starrer declined 41% to an estimated $4.7 million from 2,108 runs for a cume of $17.7 million.

Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” from the Weinstein Co., continued to lure adults. Film dipped 22% in its fourth frame to an estimated $2.2 million from 718 runs for a cume of $16.1 million.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Babylon A.D.” fell 58% in its second frame, grossing an estimated $4 million from 3,425 for a cume of $17.2 million in its first 10 days. Pic placed No. 6.

Coming in No. 7 for the weekend was Universal’s “Death Race,” another male-skewing actioner. It dipped 43% in its third frame to an estimated $3.6 million from 2,586; cume is $29.8 million in its third sesh.

Sony’s laffer “Pineapple Express” was No. 10. Comedy declined 32% in its fifth sesh to an estimated $2.4 million from 1,802 for a cume of $84.1 million.

Focus Features’ comedy “Hamlet 2″ continued to struggle, grossing an estimated $819,409 from 1,575 runs for a cume of $4.3 million in its second weekend in wide release. Title saw a 52% dip.

Among specialty openers, Strand’s “A Secret” nabbed a per-screen average of $12,000, as it grossed an estimated $36,000 from three theaters. Magnolia’s “Mr. Foe” grossed an estimated $14,000 from two runs for a per-location average of $7,000. IFC’s “Ping Pong Playa” grossed an estimated $32,500 from nine runs for a per-theater average of $3,611. Roadside Attractions’ “Everybody Wants to Be an Italian” opened in 96 theaters, grossing an estimated $205,000 for a per-location average of $2,135.

Holdover “Bottle Shock,” from Freestyle, grossed an estimated $579,044 from 401 in its fifth week for a cume of $3.3 million.

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