Summer boxoffice wraps weakly

'Tropic Thunder' on top for third week in a row

It was another stormy weekend for moviegoers -- figuratively and otherwise -- but a weak end to the storming summer boxoffice.

DreamWorks/Paramount's "Tropic Thunder" managed a remarkable three-peat performance atop the domestic boxoffice with an estimated $14.3 million haul through Labor Day, shaping an $86.8 million cume for the R-rated comedy. And in one of the weekend's few other bright spots, Warner Bros.' Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight" -- third in the frame with $11 million -- pushed its cume to a mind-bending $504.7 million.

But grosses were limp elsewhere as the session's $122 million industrywide haul marked an 18% drop from last year's holiday weekend. That means the summer boxoffice -- which had been racing to the finish line in last-ditch effort to match summer 2007's record boxoffice -- will underperform the year-ago season just a bit when final figures are released today.

Sunday estimates put the industry tally at about $4.13 billion vs. $4.16 billion for last summer, a 1% dip in boxoffice and a slightly deeper decline in admissions because of ticket-price boosts. Year-to-date, 2008 boxoffice is also off 1%, at $6.68 billion.

Four wide openers marked lackluster bows over the boxoffice season's final frame, which was hampered in the Gulf Coast region by preoccupation with Hurricane Gustav.

Fox's Vin Diesel starrer "Babylon A.D." opened in second place, with the sci-fi actioner posting a softer-than-expected $12 million.

Sony's PG-13 comedy "House Bunny" finished fourth in its second weekend, as a three-day drop of 43% from week-earlier grosses produced $10.2 million on the frame and an 11-day cume of $29.8 million.

Overture's thriller "Traitor," starring Don Cheadle, opened in fifth place with $10 million on the four-day frame and an $11.5 million cume since unspooling Wednesday.

Universal's action remake "Death Race" was sixth, with a 50% decline for its second weekend shaping an $8.2 million session and $25 million cume.

Lionsgate's comedy spoof "Disaster Movie" -- toting a PG-13 rating -- bowed in seventh place with $6.9 million.

The Ice Cube starrer "The Longshots," from MGM and Dimension, slipped from the top 10 in a 43% decline from opening grosses to $2.9 million over its four-day sophomore session and an $8.1 million cume.

MGM-distributed "College," an R-rated comedy, debuted outside the top 10 with a thin $2.6 million.

Focus Features' first wide expansion of the PG-13 comedy "Hamlet 2," starring Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener, also disappointed, grossing just $2.1 million from 1,597 playdates. Its cume is $3.1 million.

In a limited bow this weekend, Sony Pictures Classics' comedy "I Served the King of England" unspooled in eight theaters in four markets and grossed $67,906, or a solid $8,488 per venue.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, the Ben Kingsley starrer "Elegy," from IDP/Samuel Goldwyn, added 47 playdates for a total of 139 and grossed $792,054, or a sturdy $5,698 per engagement, with a $1.7 million cume.

"Babylon" drew audiences comprised 63% of males, with Friday night attracting mostly younger demos and the film playing a bit older through the rest of the weekend.

"We're happy," Fox senior vp distribution Bert Livingston said. "We were No. 1 among the new pictures and met our expectations."

"Traitor," which debuted at the high end of pre-release expectations, drew audiences comprised 58% of males while skewing a bit older.

"We're extremely happy," Overture executive vp distribution Kyle Davies said. "It was an extremely competitive weekend, with everybody trying to get a piece of the pie, and we did extremely well."

"Disaster" audiences were 52% male, with teens representing 53% of all patrons.

"We were expecting quite a bit more," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said of the film's opening grosses.

MGM was a distributor-only on Element Films' "College," which drew predictably younger audiences and skewed 60% male.

"We always envisioned this as more of a home-entertainment play," MGM distribution topper Clark Woods said. "Although it was disappointing, it was within the range we can live with and so can Element."

Despite garnering largely positive reviews, "Hamlet 2" might shed a few of its smallest markets quickly while attempting to maintain most current theaters for at least one more weekend.

Focus distribution president Jack Foley lamented "a disappointing weekend for a wonderful film."

The coming weekend will feature just one wide opener over fall's first frame, Lionsgate's Nicolas Cage starrer "Bangkok Dangerous."
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