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‘Shark’ spanks puppets

'Tale' tops; 'Team' takes 3rd

This fish has legs: DreamWorks’ “Shark Tale” held the top spot at the box office for a third straight week, grabbing another $22.1 million.

But “Team America,” Par’s manic marionette movie about terrorism, politics and Hollywood was hamstrung, bowing in third place.

“Shark Tale” cume hit $118.8 million. The fish toon is only the second film this year to take No. 1 honors three weeks in a row, following “The Passion of the Christ” last winter.

Pic declined just 29% for the frame, a smaller drop than last week, when it was aided by the Columbus Day holiday on Monday.

It’s currently the 12th biggest grosser of the year, but it should pass the three films ahead of it (“50 First Dates,” “Van Helsing,” and docu “Fahrenheit 9/11,” all bunched around $120 million) in the next couple of days.

‘Lights’ still glowing

Neither of the weekend’s new titles reported overwhelming receipts. In fact, Universal’s “Friday Night Lights” stayed in the No. 2 spot for its second week, the same place where it debuted, on a take of $13.1 million, off just 36%.

Of the fresh pics, “Team America” came in on the low end of expectations, with $12.3 million from 2,539 locations.

Miramax scored on the higher end of its modest expectations for Richard Gere-Jennifer Lopez romancer “Shall We Dance,” which brought in $11.6 million from 1,772 venues.

Rounding out the top five was Disney’s “Ladder 49,” which added $8.6 million to its cume; it now stands at $53.9 million.

Good timing

“Shark Tale” has found success despite tepid reviews, but CGI toon’s buoyant performance couldn’t have come at a better time for DreamWorks.

After the studio filed last week for an initial public offering for its animation unit, it is under huge scrutiny from Wall Street to see if it can consistently generate toon hits that don’t have “Shrek” in the title. In its filing, DreamWorks said it wants to sell shares repping about a 25% interest in the toon unit for more than $600 million.

With “Shark Tale” and the summer’s monster hit “Shrek 2” ($879 million worldwide), DreamWorks is the first studio since Disney in 1999 to cross the $100 million mark with two animated pics in the same year; Disney did it with “Toy Story 2” (from Pixar) and “Tarzan.”

Par prexy Wayne Lewellen said “Team America” came in “on the low end of what we were looking at, but it’s not a disappointment.” He said the production budget on the Trey Parker-helmed pic was around $30 million.

Pic had the most traction in urban cities on both coasts. Lewellen also said the aud for the R-rated pic skewed heavily to young males. Demos were not available for the weekend, but he assumed they would be nearly identical to sneaks last week, which drew about 70% males and 65% people under age 25.

Demo difference

Demos for the other newcomer, “Shall We Dance,” were a near mirror image, with Miramax distrib head Mike Rudnitsky reporting auds about two-thirds female and half over the age of 35.

“That was the audience we wanted on opening weekend,” he said. “We’re very happy with the opening and the word of mouth is great.”

Miramax, which sneaked the pic extensively over the last three weeks, is hoping it has a slow builder like New Line’s “The Notebook,” a summer sleeper hit with strong older femme appeal that, after opening to $13.5 million, cumed $80 million-plus.

Overall weekend biz was off significantly from last year. Nielsen EDI estimates the frame’s figure at $98 million, down 14% from the same weekend in 2003, when “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” led the pack with a $28.1 million opening.

The weak weekend figures meant the 2004 year-to-date total of $7.203 billion is now only 3% ahead of 2003 through this point.

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