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The battle of the weekend box office proved to be a tighter race than had been anticipated. Universal’s “Billy Madison” won by a nose over TriStar’s “The Quick and the Dead.” However, the situation was reversed for the week.

The official tally put the Sharon Stone oater ahead of the Adam Sandler comedy by about $200,000, with “Quick” reporting $8.4 million. “Billy” had a better per-screen average of $4,475 to “Quick’s” $3,908 draw.

Of course, if truth be told, neither pic was a winner. Both opened tepidly and are expected to take a quick tumble. That’s been the order of the marketplace for more than a month.

The ultimate commercial differences between the two pix may well even out. “Billy,” by studio standards, was a cheapie. Conversely, “Quick” cost about $35 million, plus P&A. But Stone’s luster and the emphasis on action in the Western probably mean a lot more in foreign markets. It’s conceivable, somewhere down the trail, that both pix will break even.

Marked on the curve, the best wide release is Warner Bros.’ “Boys on the Side,” which parked in fourth with almost $5.8 million and a slight 10% dip in biz.

The 97 titles tracked during the three-day frame added up to some $65 million.

Of those, only two actually had improved grosses – that’s the ratio between added engagements and B.O. where there was an improvement in the latter column. Comprising the dynamic duo were Goldwyn’s “The Madness of King George,” which expanded its invasion from 116 to 147 screens, and First Look’s “The Secret of Roan Inish,” with nine dates.

Matters may be slightly advantaged for specialized outlets. Niche appeal product is generally sustaining longer than recent mass-release titles.

Hollywood Picture’s “Miami Rhapsody” dipped only 10% without losing (or adding) playdates, but the studio remains unconvinced the romantic comedy can sustain much beyond its current 180 engagements.