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‘JEDI’ ZAPS ‘PRIVATES’

'Return' tops, 'Jungle' in 2nd, 'Parts' 3rd

The “Star Wars” trilogy once again ruled the box office universe as 20th Century Fox’s “Return of the Jedi: Special Edition” blasted off to a studio-estimated $16.3 million opening weekend.

Meanwhile, Buena Vista’s sophomore “Jungle 2 Jungle” pulled ahead of last week’s top grosser, Paramount’s “Private Parts.”

Off just 12% to $11.3 million, the Tim Allen kidpic showed considerably stronger staying power than the highly publicized Howard Stern autobiopic, which dropped 35% to $9 million in its second weekend.

The film saw precipitous dropoffs compared with last weekend in such Stern radio strongholds as New York, L.A. and Washington, D.C. But pic fared better in areas where the shock jock’s show doesn’t air, such as Atlanta, Seattle and Denver.

Par president of distribution Wayne Lewellen explained that while Stern fans flocked to the film in disproportionate numbers on opening weekend, in the non-Stern markets, “word of mouth has spread that it’s a good film.” However, those smaller markets couldn’t compensate for the big-city dropoffs.

“Private Parts” could be in for more rough sledding Friday when Universal unleashes its Jim Carrey comedy “Liar, Liar” — a film that will also likely appeal strongly to Stern’s core male audience.

The frame’s only other wide opener, New Line Cinema’s hip urban romance “Love Jones,” picked up $4 million to put it in sixth place. The Sundance premiere from first-time director Theodore Witcher unspooled in 820 singles bars for a $4,878 average.

With the re-release of “Jedi,” all three “Star Wars” films were represented on the weekend top 10 chart, accounting for an estimated $23.7 million or around 30% of the total market. In just over six weeks, the “Special Edition” versions have grossed an amazing $210 million.

As many box office pundits had predicted, each successive installment of the trilogy has done less opening weekend business than its predecessor. According Fox’s estimates, “Jedi’s” debut was 26% lower than “Empire Strikes Back’s” $22 million bow three weeks ago. In turn, “Empire’s” opening weekend was off 39% from “Star Wars’ ” $35.9 million launch on Jan. 31.

Appearing on 2,111 planets, “Jedi” averaged $7,721 per orbit, bringing its lifetime cume to $280 million.

Total ticket sales for the weekend are estimated at about $75 million for films grossing $500,000 or more. That’s an increase of 26% over the comparable frame last year and a drop of 5% from last weekend.

In second place, BV’s “Jungle 2 Jungle” — a remake of the French film “Little Indian, Big City” — swung on 2,323 vines for a $4,864 average. Cume to date is $27.6 million.

At No. 3, Par’s “Private Parts” broadcast on 2,138 frequencies or $4,210 per station; cume is $27.9 million.

In fourth place, Sony’s “Donnie Brasco” dropped 30% to $5.5 million. In 1,593 social clubs the Mike Newell-helmed mob drama averaged $3,453. Now in its third week, the Al Pacino-Johnny Depp starrer has cumed $31.4 million.

Fox’s “The Empire Strikes Back” landed in fifth place, down 37% to $5.1 million. In 2,322 battles, the first “Star Wars” sequel averaged $2,196 per playdate. After 24 days in theaters, the “Special Edition” version has cumed $59.5 million, bringing the film’s lifetime cume to $282.2 million.

‘Blade’ jumps

At No. 7, Miramax’s double Oscar nominee “Sling Blade” jumped 150% to take in $3 million after expanding from 268 playdates to 951. The Billy Bob Thornton film, which first appeared in theaters over 16 weeks ago, has cumed $8.4 million.

Among limited openers, Metromedia Entertainment Group’s noirish thriller “City of Industry” erected a disappointing $809,000 in 442 factories or $1,832 per site.

Miramax’s “Substance of Fire” also failed to strike a spark. The screen adaptation of Jon Robin Baitz’s off-Broadway play grossed a chilly $31,000 in 11 theaters for a $2,818 average.

Fox Searchlight’s “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” grossed $300,000 after expanding from eight to 50 screens, or $6,000 per theater. Cume after 17 days is $581,000.

Castle Rock and Sony’s “Absolute Power” was down 33% to $2.5 million in 1,605 oval offices for a $1,558 average. Cume after a month for the Clint Eastwood-helmed pic: $45.6 million.

Fox’s “Star Wars: Special Edition” took ninth place with $2.3 million. Off 41%, the first installment of the sci-fi trilogy appeared in 1,430 locations, for a $1,608 average. Cume is $134 million for the re-release; $456.7 million lifetime.

Bringing up the rear was Sony’s “Booty Call,” off 46% to $2.2 million in 1,154 playdates for a $1,908 average.

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