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It's Witchcraft for 'Practical Magic'


It was a Battle of the Divas weekend with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman working their magic to fend off Chucky's bride and Oprah's beloved. Bullock and Kidman's double toil and trouble in the "Bewitched"-style "Practical Magic" cast its spell over patrons and broke up the two-week picnic "Antz" had enjoyed at the top of the charts.

Though reviews for "Magic" were mixed to poor, the witch fantasy brought out young females and date-night couples for a hefty $13.6-million start on 2,652 screens. "Antz" held on tenaciously, falling to third place with a 23% drop to $11.3 million in 2,903 theaters for a three-week total of almost $52 million.

Universal kept the funny/scary "Bride of Chucky" away from critics, not that the horror-hungry hordes care much about reviews anyway. Buoyed by a strong marketing campaign, "Chucky" gave the studio its best opening numbers in a long while, placing a solid second with $11.6 million in 2,411 theaters, the best debut in the "Child's Play" horror series.

Disney chose a much more select 1,501-theater route to spring "Beloved," sensing (rightly as it turns out) that its initial core audience was older, urban and largely female (more than 60%, according to studio senior executive Dick Cook). Glowing reviews and Oprah Winfrey's personal drawing power accounted for an $8.5-million first-weekend take, better than $5,600 a screen, the highest average in the top 10. Though it only managed to place fifth, according to Cook, exit polls were extremely strong, portending good word of mouth.

The arrival of three new films buoyed attendance levels despite the bicoastal World Series start, although Saturday night grosses in San Diego definitely were affected. Business for the top 12 films was well above last weekend, when Eddie Murphy's disastrous "Holy Man" debuted, and even surpassed last year by a cool 20%, according to the industry tracking company Exhibitor Relations.

Like "Antz," the fall season's other strong performer, "Rush Hour," hardly noticed the jam of new films in theaters, dropping only 22% and continuing to crowd houses with an $8.6-million weekend and $110 million after only five weeks, placing it among the 10 top-grossing films of 1998.

However, "What Dreams May Come" took a 40% tumble as its date-night and female audience wandered off to "Magic" and "Beloved." Still, third-weekend ticket sales amounted to $6.5 million in 2,506 theaters for a total of more than $41 million so far.

Two youth-appeal films, "A Night at the Roxbury" and "Urban Legend," took it on the chin with the arrival of "Bride of Chucky." "Roxbury" held on well enough, dropping to $3.9 million in 2,169 theaters for a total just over $23 million. "Urban" slipped to $3 million in 2,063 theaters to bring it to $31 million.

In ninth place was MGM's "Ronin," which slowed down to $2.8 million in 1,982 theaters; it has banked more than $35 million in its first month. In its second weekend, Murphy's "Holy Man" lost more than 50% of its business, dropping to an awful $2.4 million and barely staying in the top 10 with a two-week total of only $9 million.

For the first time since July, "There's Something About Mary" and "Saving Private Ryan" fell out of the top 10, taking 10th and 12th place and bringing their respective totals to around $165 million and $188 million.

Look for another burst of action next week with the arrival of three more new films: "Soldier," starring Kurt Russell, the Stephen King short-story adaptation "Apt Pupil," and the national debut of the fantasy comedy "Pleasantville."

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