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Pluto ‘XXX’-ed out

'Nash' mashed in surf-bored B.O. snoozer

Sony/Revolution’s extreme-sports spy actioner “XXX” repeated atop the weekend box office with an estimated $23 million in soph grosses, the first pic since Sony’s “Men in Black 2” managed the feat on July 12.

Universal/Imagine’s “Blue Crush,” a surfer girl’s pic that’s prompted debate over late-summer release date, dog-paddled to a tepid $15.2 million opening in third place. And Warner Bros.’ “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” a pricey sci-fi spoof U put into turnaround several years ago, produced one of the biggest misfires ever as the Eddie Murphy starrer bowed with just $2.2 million in 10th place.

Industrywide, the weekend repped a 3% falloff from the same frame a year ago with $112 million in estimated total grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. It was the fifth consecutive year-over-year decline after string of weekend upticks earlier this summer.

Year-to-date, 2002 is now 13% ahead of the same portion of last year with $5.98 billion in total grosses.

Frame’s downtick hung largely on the horrendous perf by “Pluto Nash,” an opening so abysmal it had B.O.-watchers mentioning the industry’s most legendary fiascoes like pricey flops “Town & Country,” “Ishtar” and “Heaven’s Gate.”

But in a significant silver lining, the latest weekend actually produced some impressively modest week-over-week drops for previously bowing pics. Miramax/Dimension soph-sesher “Spy Kids 2” grabbed fourth place on a skimpy 31% decline to $11.6 million, and Warners’ “Blood Work” was off just 33% in its second weekend at $4.8 million in seventh place.

Among sesh’s limited bows, Focus unspooled Gwyneth Paltrow starrer “Possession” in 270 locations in 17 markets, good for an estimated $1.6 million — a solid $5,975 per playdate. Drama unfolds nationwide over the Labor Day frame.

Rainforest opened romantic thriller “Pandora’s Box” in 14 sites and found $54,012, or $3,858 per run, with late September and October expansions planned.

Paramount Classics debuted laffer “Mostly Martha” in two Gotham theaters and grossed an estimated $42,000. That repped a distrib-record $21,000 per-venue average a week before wacky-restaurant pic hits top 10 markets.

And Thinkfilm opened drama “The Last Kiss” in four L.A. theaters and one in Gotham, grossing $32,000, or $6,400 per location. Gotham venue, which featured evening sellouts, performed the best with a $15,000 weekend.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Fox Searchlight expanded Jennifer Anniston starrer “The Good Girl” by 56 engagements to a total 60 sites in 20 markets and grossed $828,000, or an impressive $13,800 per playdate. Pic, which enjoys $1.1 million cume, widens to 175 runs on Friday and 500 on Aug. 30.

Miramax’s “Tadpole” swam to 59 new theaters for a total 151 and attracted $305,000, or $2,019 per venue with a $1.6 million cume.

Focus’ Robert Evans biopic “The Kid Stays in the Picture” added 11 playdates for a total 56 and collected $182,118. That repped $3,252 per site and produced a $776,814 cume.

Palm drama “Sex and Lucia” added three theaters for a total 32 and grossed $99,277, or an average $3,102 with a $683,389 cume.

And United Artists’ music pic “24 Hour Party People” expanded by 16 gigs for a total 18, grossing $153,133, or a festive $8,674 per engagement.

‘Blue’ sked changed

U bounced “Blue Crush” from a previously skedded July 12 date, hoping to escape a crush of B.O. competish and build more pic awareness among core youth auds.

Co-prod partner Imagine is believed to have preferred an earlier bow for the summer-oriented pic. But U execs said opening gives them little cause for regret.

“When you make a niche movie you have to be realistic about what to expect,” U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco said.

Warners execs seemed to swallow hard and acknowledge their much harsher reality.

“It’s unfortunate but every studio has to face a disappointing result at some point,” Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman said.

“Pluto” — a $90 million-plus pic that sat on the shelf for two years and then bowed without pre-release press screenings — was a co-production of Warners’ Castle Rock unit and Oz-based Village Roadshow.

‘XXX’ skewing older

Revolution Studios partner Tom Sherak said he was not dissatisfied with the 48% soph-sesh drop for “XXX,” citing difficulties of maintaining a marketplace hold after bowing north of 3,000 engagements. He added that pic drew much older auds in its second weekend.

“XXX” now has a shot at becoming summer’s first three-weekend B.O. king, Sony marketing-distrib boss Jeff Blake said, as next weekend’s competish features a pair of relatively modest wide openers.

Miramax bows Wesley Snipes drama “Undisputed,” and Paramount unspools Elizabeth Hurley-Matthew Perry laffer “Serving Sara.”

“We really are holding, and going forward with a relatively clear road ahead,” Blake said.

Still, pricey pic’s having to leg it out is something of a surprise, as co-prod partners were so high on “XXX” prospects they began work on a sequel prior to original’s release. Estimated cume is $84.9 million after 10 days.

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