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'Gladiator' Tops Box Office Again

LOS ANGELES (AP) — ``Gladiator'' continues to turn the gore of ancient Rome into box office maximus.

The tale of a wronged hero seeking vengeance in the arena took in $24.3 million to remain No. 1 at U.S. movie theaters for the second straight weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. The movie starring Russell Crowe as Maximus pushed its total gross to $73.3 million in 10 days of release.

John Travolta's sci-fi thriller ``Battlefield Earth,'' which received almost universally terrible reviews, debuted in second place with $12.3 million. The movie is based on L. Ron Hubbard's bestseller about humans revolting against alien conquerors in the year 3000.

``We're No. 2 and happy to be there in such a competitive marketplace,'' said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released ``Battlefield Earth.'' ``When John opens up a movie, there's no doubt about it.''

Final box-office figures were to be released today.

``Gladiator'' benefitted from a weak field of new movies. Besides ``Battlefield Earth,'' Sony's ballet drama ``Center Stage'' took hard knocks from many critics, as did Trimark's ``Held Up,'' a comedy starring Jamie Foxx. The Norm McDonald comedy ``Screwed'' was deemed so bad Universal didn't screen it for reviewers beforehand.

``Center Stage'' debuted with $4.8 million to tie for fourth place with ``The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas'' and ``Frequency.'' ``Screwed'' opened at No. 8 with $3.4 million, and ``Held Up'' was tied for No. 10 with ``Keeping the Faith'' at $1.9 million.

``Ordinarily, a movie like 'Gladiator' would be going after primarily a male audience, but the spectacle and romance of it has got female movie-goers caught up in it, too,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie ticket sales. ``That bodes well for Russell Crowe and his future.''

``Gladiator's'' box-office reign likely will end next weekend with the debut of Disney's ``Dinosaur,'' a computer-animated spectacle about talking prehistoric reptiles on the run from a killer meteor. Five days later, the summer season officially begins with Tom Cruise's ``Mission: Impossible 2'' opening for Memorial Day weekend.

By then, ``Gladiator'' probably will have topped $100 million, said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks, which released the film. That would make ``Gladiator'' the second movie released this year to hit that mark, after ``Erin Brockovich.''

``Honestly, I think we'll continue to play very well into July,'' Tharp said.

A new screen version of ``Hamlet,'' set in modern corporate Manhattan, did well in limited release. Starring Ethan Hawke, the movie debuted at four sites with $61,000 for an impressive per-theater average of $15,250, compared with ``Gladiator's'' average of $8,257 at 2,943 cinemas.

``Hamlet'' expands to more theaters next weekend.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.

1. ``Gladiator,'' $24.3 million.

2. ``Battlefield Earth,'' $12.3 million.

3. ``U-571,'' $5.8 million.

4 (tie) ``Center Stage,'' $4.8 million.

4 (tie) ``The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,'' $4.8 million.

4 (tie) ``Frequency,'' $4.8 million.

7. ``Where the Heart Is,'' $3.6 million.

8. ``Screwed,'' $3.4 million.

9. ``Love and Basketball,'' $2 million.

10 (tie) ``Held Up,'' $1.9 million.

10 (tie) ``Keeping the Faith,'' $1.9 million.
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