'Rush Hour' in first gear

$50.2 mil bow less than 2nd pic; b.o. stays strong

Despite a North American boxoffice that continues to post upbeat results, the weekend's new wide releases didn't leave their respective distributors celebrating.

New Line Cinema's action comedy "Rush Hour 3" handily took the top slot with an estimated $50.2 million opening, but while that number was impressive, it fell short of the $67.4 million that "Rush Hour 2" commanded when it debuted in 2001. Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures' fantasy "Stardust" was earthbound with an estimated $9 million bow, and Sony Pictures' "Daddy Day Camp," a sequel of sorts to the 2003 hit "Daddy Day Care," opened to an estimated $3.6 million.

In second place, Universal Pictures' "The Bourne Ultimatum" crossed the $100 million mark by collecting an estimated $33.7 million, bringing its domestic tally to an estimated $132.3 million.

The overall boxoffice remained strong compared with the same frame a year ago, when Sony Pictures' "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" led the list for the second weekend in a row with a take of $22.1 million. According to Nielsen EDI, the top 10 films for the weekend grossed an estimated $135.7 million, up 31% from last year.

As Hollywood's summer of sequels grinds to a close, the latest installment in the "Rush Hour" franchise did face some hurdles: It's been six years since the last film in the series, and fast-talking star Chris Tucker hasn't been seen on the big screen since then. With Brett Ratner again directing, the pricey, $140 million sequel reunites Tucker with Jackie Chan as the two mismatched detectives who this time find new culture clashes in Paris.

Opening in 3,778 theaters, the PG-13 film collected its estimated $50.2 million by achieving a per-theater average of $13,297. According to New Line, the opening-weekend audience was evenly divided between males and females and those under and over 25. The studio said that 85% of the audience polled rated the movie good or excellent, while 75% said they would definitely recommend it.

"It's a four-quadrant movie, and we expect it to run into September like the last one did," New Line domestic distribution president David Tuckerman said.

Said Arthur Sarkissian, one of the film's producers: "The most important thing to me is the reactions that I've been seeing. It's been playing to packed houses, and the audience reaction is unbelievable, which translates into staying power."

New Line's other current release, the musical "Hairspray," already is demonstrating staying power. In its fourth weekend, the film declined just 31%, holding onto the sixth slot by earning an estimated $6.4 million. Its domestic cume is more than $92 million.

Despite a stellar cast that includes Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, "Stardust" — a fanciful tale directed by Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake") and based on the Neil Gaiman novel — did not make much of a first impression. Debuting in 2,540 theaters, the PG-13 film had to settle for a fourth-place showing with an estimated $9 million.

The film, on which Paramount partnered with Ingenious Film Partners and Marv Films, already is looking to buoy its fortunes abroad; in Russia, where it opened Thursday, it has picked up $2.9 million.

"It's a movie that we always assumed would do better internationally than domestically — we just didn't assume the difference will be quite as dramatic as it now looks to be," said Paramount's Rob Moore, president of worldwide marketing, distribution and business operations. "The international numbers should be double domestic, if not more."

The movie will roll out in most of Europe in October.

The studio did reach a milestone during the weekend as "Transformers," a DreamWorks/Paramount production, became the fourth film of the year to pass the $300 million mark. That's a new record for a summer as well as an entire year, and it is one of the factors that has pushed summer 2007's boxoffice 6% higher than the record summer of 2004.

Finishing in 11th place overall on the weekend, "Transformers" took in an estimated $3.3 million as its domestic cume rose to nearly $303 million. In doing so, Paramount becomes the second distributor to release back-to-back $300 million-plus grossers, the first being Buena Vista Pictures, which fielded "Finding Nemo" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" in 2003.

Although Sony launched the PG-rated "Daddy" in 2,332 theaters, the TriStar Pictures title originally was conceived as a potential direct-to-DVD release and proved it wasn't up to playing with the big boys. The film, in which Cuba Gooding Jr. steps into the role created by Eddie Murphy, had to settle for a 10th-place showing with an estimated $3.6 million.

After Dark Films' PG-13 werewolf tale "Skinwalkers" finished well outside the top 10, making its opening-weekend stand in 737 theaters, where it grossed an estimated $565,000.

Among specialty releases, Samuel Goldwyn Films, through its IDP Distribution, launched the Julie Delpy-directed "2 Days in Paris" on 10 screens in Los Angeles and New York, where it grossed an estimated $181,000. It will expand Aug. 24 into the top 20 markets.

Picturehouse debuted the high school-set "Rocket Science" in six theaters, where it grossed nearly $57,000. The second weekend of the distributor's "El Cantante" grossed an estimated $1.4 million, bringing the biopic's cume to date to an estimated $5.5 million. IFC Films introduced "Dans Paris" in two theaters Wednesday. It grossed an estimated $13,200 for the weekend, bringing its gross to date to $17,300.

Miramax Films moved its period romance "Becoming Jane" from the 100 theaters in which it debuted last weekend into 601. The film grossed an estimated $3 million for a per-theater average of $5,004 and a cume to date of $4.6 million. ThinkFilm raised the theater count on its comedy "The Ten" from 25 to 40 and grossed an estimated $104,700 for a gross to date of nearly $295,000.

For the week ending Thursday, total boxoffice was $282.2 million, up 23% from the $229.2 million collected during the comparable week last year. The domestic boxoffice stands at $6.32 billion for the year, up nearly 7% from 2006's $5.91 billion. Admissions are up about 2%.