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The plethora of specialty pics this fall is having a Darwinian effect on the limited-release scene. Fewer pics are evolving from their opening-weekend splashes into durable players.

When it comes to survival of the fittest, the big surprise has been Julie Taymor’s whimsical “Across the Universe,” which landed at No. 8 over the weekend at the domestic box office. The musical romp drawing from the music of the Beatles grossed an estimated $4 million as it expanded to 954 theaters in its fifth frame for a cume of $12.9 million, according to Rentrak.

“Universe,” from Sony/Revolution, is drawing plenty of repeat biz from younger girls, much as “Hairspray” did this summer.

That’s by the far the best showing among specialty releases so far this fall. Otherwise, it’s tough going as one awards contender after another bows, hoping to gain enough traction to keep adding markets and platforming.

Over the weekend, the Weinstein Co. nabbed the best per-screen average among specialty pics with the debut of “Control,” which grossed an estimated $27,000 from its exclusive run at the Film Forum in Gotham. Haul was the third best in the theater’s history.

Biopic, which had largely flown under the radar, charts the life of the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who committed suicide at the age of 23. Music photographer Anton Corbijn directed, while newcomer Sam Riley plays Curtis and Samantha Morton also stars.

“Control” expands to Los Angeles this coming weekend.

Also debuting was MGM-Sidney Kimmel Entertainment’s quirky dramedy “Lars and the Real Girl.” Ryan Gosling starrer grossed an estimated $84,000 from seven theaters in Gotham and New York for the second-best per-screen average of $12,000. Pic will expand to the top 10 markets this weekend.

“I think it’s a solid opening,” MGM prexy of domestic distribution Clark Woods said. “But it’s always tough. The public sorts through all these titles and figures out which ones to hang on to.”

Sony Pictures Classics remake “Sleuth,” directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Michael Caine and Jude Law, opened in nine locations and grossed an estimated $50,090, for a per-screen average of $5,566.

Among holdovers, the marketplace remained a slugfest.

Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” from Fox Searchlight, grossed an estimated $1.2 million from 95 locations in its third frame for a healthy per-screen average of $11,842. Cume is $2.2 million.

Nabbing the fourth-best per-screen average of the weekend among specialty titles was Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution.” The Focus Features title, also in its third frame, grossed an estimated $606,091 from 77 theaters for a cume of $2.2 million and a per-screen average of $7,871.

Paramount Vantage’s “Into the Wild” came in next, with a per-screen average of $6,245. Film grossed an estimated $955,502 from 153 locations in its fourth frame for a cume of $4 million. Weekend was the first in which the pic, directed by Sean Penn, saw a decline, dropping 25%.

Continuing to struggle, Warner Bros.’ Brad Pitt-Casey Affleck starrer “The Assassination of Jesse James” grossed an estimated $385,000 as it expanded to 163 locations in its fourth frame for a per-screen average of $2,362.

Warner Independent Pictures’ “In the Valley of Elah,” directed by Paul Haggis and set against the backdrop of the Iraq war, shed screens heading into its fifth frame. Film grossed $405,000 for a per-screen average of $559 and a cume of $6.3 million.

For a specialty pic, it is particularly difficult to keep theaters if the per-screen average begins to decline in a crowded marketplace such as this one.

Some studios are opting to take a film wide from the outset instead of bowing in a limited run and then platforming.

In 1998, Universal and Working Title platformed Cate Blanchett “Elizabeth,” which ended up grossing $30 million and earning several Oscar noms. But U and Working Title decided to go wide over the weekend with sequel “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” believing that auds were familiar with the property based on the first movie.

Despite a heavy marketing push by U — including a gala preem at the Toronto Film Festival — “Golden Age” performed below expectations, grossing $6.2 million from 2,001 locations. Pic placed No. 6 for the weekend. Universal execs nevertheless say that going wide was the right decision.

With George Clooney starrer “Michael Clayton,” Warners decided to bow the drama in exclusive runs in Gotham and New York over the weekend of Oct. 5 and then go wide over the weekend. Idea was to build word of mouth through positive reviews. Moody drama grossed an estimated $11.01 million from 2,511 locations, placing No. 3.