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Horror heavies light it up

'Freddy vs. Jason' slays cops, cowboys

This article was updated at 8:00 p.m. PT on August 17, 2003.

Blackouts turned out to be good news for the horror biz.

New Line’s “Freddy vs. Jason” opened atop the weekend box office with a strong $36.4 million, as enthusiasm for restored cinema air conditioning mostly compensated for scattered showtime cancellations in blackout markets.

Sony cop actioner “S.W.A.T.” ticketed $18.6 million, or half of its opening haul a weekend earlier, in finishing runner-up over the latest frame.

“Open Range,” a Kevin Costner Western from Disney, herded $14.1 million to open a bit better than expected in third place. Mouse House’s family laffer “Freaky Friday” finished fourth with $13.1 million on a relatively modest 41% drop in its second weekend.

MGM’s femme magnet “Uptown Girls” bowed in fifth place with a so-so $11.2 million. And Gaylord Entertainment’s skateboard actioner “Grind,” distribbed by Warner Bros., debuted weakly with just $2.6 million placing it outside of the weekend top 10.

Industrywide, the weekend repped a big 28% improvement over the same frame last year with $142.5 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

The season is now 1% ahead of last summer, though year-to-date B.O. is off 2%.

Sequels are sizzling

Sequels appear a big part of the season’s modest uptick from a year ago, with “Freddy” the ninth follow-up to debut at No. 1 this summer. The most sequels finishing atop weekend B.O. rankings in any previous summer was four, a mark hit six times — including the past two summers.

Chart-topping perf also repped the fifth R-rated pic to finish No. 1 this summer. And all of those restricted weekend winners were sequels.

In a limited bow this weekend, Fine Line drama “American Splendor” played in half a dozen locations and grossed $156,000, or an impressive $26,000 per location.

But IDP/Goldwyn drama “Passionada” opened in 74 theaters to gross just $111,000, or a limp $1,500 per venue. Pic, which wasn’t playing in any of the markets affected by last week’s power outages, will add Gotham runs in future expansions.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Miramax suspenser “Dirty Pretty Things” added 80 theaters for a total 142 and grossed $626,610, or an acceptable $4,413 per venue with a $2 million cume.

Distrib’s dark comedy “Buffalo Soldiers” added three locations for a total 24 and grossed $39,139, or a thin $1,631 per site with a $210,934 cume. Its drama “The Magdalene Sisters” added 15 playdates for a total 26 and grossed $196,126, a solid $7,543 per engagement with a $395,281 cume.

Miramax also re-released a pair of previously unspooled titles this weekend to pad their respective cumes a bit. Hit musical “Chicago” visited 56 locations this weekend but grossed just $32,513, or $581 per location, as Oscar’s best pic ran domestic cume to $170.6 million.

And quirky laffer “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” was re-released in a pair of theaters to gross $10,939, or $5,470 per venue, as cume reached $10.9 million.

Artisan’s surfing docu “Step into Liquid” added 11 locations this weekend for a total 16 and grossed $190,000. That repped an impressive $11,875 per site with a $408,000 cume. Fox Searchlight romancer “Le Divorce” added 146 engagements for a total 180 and grossed $960,000, or $5,333 per venue with a $1.7 million cume.

Paramount Classics drama “And Now Ladies and Gentlemen” added 10 engagements for a total 32 and grossed $73,000, or $2,281 per playdate with a $256,000 cume.

And Manhattan’s drama “The Secret Lives of Dentists” expanded by 40 theaters for a total 63 and grossed $449,704, or a solid $7,138 per venue with an $822,000 cume.

Execs heady over “Freddy”

Looking to next weekend, wide releases will include Sony actioner “The Medallion,” Miramax romancer “My Boss’ Daughter” and Paramount laffer “Marci X.”

Whether or not any of those hurt “Freddy” over its second weekend, New Line execs were feeling good about pic’s robust opening grosses.

Helmed by Ronnie Yu (“The 51st State”), “Freddy vs. Jason” brings together characters from the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” horror franchises but blew away recent perfs by previous installments. “Jason X” opened at $6.6 million last April and grossed $12.6 million domestically; “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” opened with $6.5 million in 1994 and grossed $18 million over its domestic run.

“We tried to established ‘Freddy vs. Jason’ as an event,” New Line marketing prexy Russell Schwartz said.

Moviegoers embraced the pic in part because there hadn’t been a recent slasher film, Schwartz added.

Disney hopes “Open Range” –which is also R-rated — will graze on positive word of mouth for some time. Directed by Costner, who co-starred with Robert Duvall, “Range” drew patrons comprised 80% of moviegoers 25 or older, with auds skewing 54% male.

“Uptown Girls,” which stars Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning, played 80% femme and 70% under 21. Execs claimed satisfaction with opening grosses, noting production costs were relatively low.

“Grind” was also a modestly budgeted affair and will likely see better playability in homevid, Warners distribution prexy Dan Fellman said.

“Gaylord thought there would be enough interest from the skateboarding community to go out with a wide release,” Fellman said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.”

Warners was only the distrib on the film and didn’t participate in production or marketing costs.