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Thunder Stays on Top of Weekend Box Office

The Associated Press

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LOS ANGELES–Tropic Thunder hauled in $14.3 million to stay on top of the box office as Hollywood’s solid summer wound down sleepily, with Hurricane Gustav contributing to a slow Labor Day weekend at theaters.

The DreamWorks-Paramount comedy was the No. 1 flick for the third-straight weekend, raising its total to $86.6 million, according to studio estimates Monday.

Debuting at No. 2 with $12 million over the four-day weekend was 20th Century Fox’s sci-fi thriller Babylon A.D., starring Vin Diesel as a mercenary smuggling a woman into New York City in a post-apocalyptic future.

With coastal Louisiana nearly deserted because of Gustav, Hollywood business was virtually nonexistent in that region.

“The theaters are closed. There is just no business at all down there,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros., whose The Dark Knight was No. 3 with $11 million.

Gustav made a slow weekend even quieter. The top 12 movies pulled in $93.4 million, down 23 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when Halloween opened with $30.6 million.
Still, Hollywood finished a fraction ahead of 2007’s record summer revenue. From the first weekend in May through Labor Day, business totaled $4.2 billion, up from $4.18 billion during summer 2007, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers.

But accounting for higher ticket prices, attendance was down 3.5 percent.

“It’s record revenue, but barely. Kind of an underwhelming end to a great summer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers.

Amid a rush of weak newcomers, The Dark Knight held up well, rising a notch from its fourth-place rank the previous weekend. The Batman sequel became the second movie in Hollywood history to top half a billion dollars domestically, climbing to $504.7 million, trailing only Titanic at $600.8 million.

Though The Dark Knight crossed the $500 million mark in record time of six weeks and three days — half the time it took Titanic to reach that level — the studio expects it to top out at about $530 million.

Titanic had a much slower climb up the charts but it maintained momentum, holding on to the No. 1 box-office slot for months.

Factoring in inflation, The Dark Knight lags far behind Titanic in terms of actual admissions. The Dark Knight would need to take in about $900 million to match the number of tickets sold by Titanic.

Among other new movies, Overture Films’ espionage thriller Traitor, starring Don Cheadle, premiered at No. 5 with $10 million, while Lionsgate’s spoof Disaster Movie debuted in seventh place with $6.9 million.

Disaster Movie was simply the latest in a rush of parody flicks, but coming three years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and with Gustav arriving the same weekend, “it was just an unfortunate choice of title,” Dergarabedian said.

“I don’t think it really changed the box office for the movie,” he said. “What Disaster Movie is is a spoof of big summer movies. I don’t think it was destined to be a huge movie.”

MGM’s campus comedy College opened well outside the top 10 with $2.6 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Tuesday.

1. Tropic Thunder, $14.3 million.
2. Babylon A.D., $12 million.
3. The Dark Knight, $11 million.
4. The House Bunny, $10.2 million.
5. Traitor, $10 million.
6. Death Race, $8.2 million.
7. Disaster Movie, $6.9 million.
8. Mamma Mia!, $5.8 million.
9. Pineapple Express, $4.5 million.
10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, $3.5 million.

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Thunder Stays on Top of Weekend Box Office