"Last Dance" twists at top of U.S. box office

"Last Dance" twists at top of U.S. box office

"Save the Last Dance," a new interracial teen romance set in the clubs of Chicago, ended a three-week "Cast Away" reign at the box office on Sunday, while overall sales were on target to set a new record for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend.

Among the other new entries to the top 10 were "Thirteen Days," a Cuban missile crisis thriller starring Kevin Costner, and "Finding Forrester," a literary drama starring Sean Connery, which shared the No. 5 spot in their first weekends of wide release.

But "Save the Last Dance" (Paramount Pictures) clearly had the floor to itself, grinding out about $24 million for the Friday-to-Sunday period and smashing the record for the King holiday weekend. The previous record was held by the 1999 college comedy "Varsity Blues" with a four-day sum of $17.5 million. (Four days estimates will be issued on Monday, followed by final data on Tuesday.)The film stars Julia Stiles as a student ballerina who gets into some dirty dancing with a black athlete played by Sean Patrick Thomas. Thomas Carter directed the film, which studio sources said cost about $13 million to make.

"Obviously it hit a nerve with the young female audience," said Wayne Lewellen, president of distribution at Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. .

Indeed studio data showed that 78 percent of the audience was female, 61 percent was under 21 and 35 percent was black. A hefty 21 percent jump in business from Friday to Saturday indicated that the movie was enjoying good word of mouth, said Lewellen. By contrast, the studio's "Varsity Blues" rose only three percent in its first two days, he added.

"Last Dance" played at 2,230 theaters, and its $10,762 average was the second-highest in the top 10, behind the $11,851 average for ninth-ranked "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Tracking firm Exhibitor Relations reported the top 12 films grossed $127.6 million for the three-day period, up 22 percent from last weekend and up 52 percent from the year-ago weekend when "Next Friday" was tops with $14.5 million. The record for all films for the four-day King weekend is $132 million, set in 1998, and observers expect this weekend to reach the $150 million area.

Two other films debuted at the weekend. "Double Take" (Touchstone), a role-reversal urban comedy starring Eddie Griffin and Orlando Jones, opened at No. 7 with $10 million, while the business thriller "Antitrust" (MGM), starring Tim Robbins, opened at No. 12 with a disappointing $5.2 million.

Tom Hanks' deserted island drama "Cast Away" (Fox) slipped to No. 2 with $17.2 million, and the drugs war saga "Traffic" (USA Films) held steady at No. 3 with $11.2 million. Their respective totals are $165.2 million after 24 days and $33.1 million after 19 days.

Touchstone Pictures is a unit of Walt Disney Co. . Twentieth Century Fox is a unit of Fox Entertainment Group Inc. . USA Films is a unit of USA Networks Inc. . MGM's full name is Metro Goldwyn Mayer Inc. ().

The Mel Gibson romantic comedy "What Women Want" (Paramount) fell two places to No. 4 with $10.5 million, taking its 31-day haul to $152.4 million.

"Thirteen Days" (New Line) and "Finding Forrester" (Columbia) each reported about $10.2 million. The former was at No. 31 last weekend in 11 theaters, the latter at No. 13 in 200 theaters. They are now at 2,029 theaters and 2,002 theaters, respectively.

Despite being set in the Kennedy White House almost 40 years ago, when the world was on the brink of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, "Thirteen Days" pulled in plenty of people under 35 years of age and some families, said New Line distribution president David Tuckerman.

"Finding Forrester" in which a reclusive author (Connery) takes a gifted black high schooler (newcomer Rob Brown) under his wing, played to a mostly 25-plus audience. Three-quarters of viewers polled gave it a "definitely recommend" score, said a Columbia spokesman.

The 24-day total for "Thirteen Days" is $10.9 million, while "Finding Forrester" has $19.6 million after 27 days. New Line Cinema is a unit of AOL Time Warner Inc. , Columbia Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp. ().

The Chinese-language "Crouching Tiger" (Sony Pictures Classics) also expanded its theater count (to 693 from 172) and jumped one place to No. 9 with $8.2 million. Its 38-day total is $28.2 million.

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