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'Forgotten' leads box office amid weak turnout at theaters

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ It's been a bad time for movies in general lately, but good for scary thrillers as ``The Forgotten'' claimed the No. 1 box office spot with $22 million.

The overall box office was down again for the fourth straight weekend compared to the same time last year, but movies like ``The Forgotten,'' about a mother who believes supernatural forces have erased people from her life, and the zombie horror-satire ``Shaun of the Dead'' still debuted relatively strongly.

Critics hated ``The Forgotten,'' but its ad campaign was considered highly effecting _ showing creepy images of people being sucked into the atmosphere while star Julianne Moore questions what happened to her memory.

Meanwhile, ``Resident Evil: Apocalypse'' continued to play well in its third week, tying for fourth place with the new teen comedy ``First Daughter,'' each of which earned an estimated $4 million.

``This just goes to show that horror movies _ even a spoof horror movie _ has a built in audience,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. ``They can be low cost and always get great numbers.''

``Shaun of the Dead,'' a low-budget shocker that chronicles a slacker as he barely notices a zombie takeover, collected $3.3 million in only 607 theaters to rank No. 8. By comparison, most of its competition was far more widely available to audiences in 2,000 to 3,000 locations.

``We're just going to let it sit and percolate for another week then we're going to expand further,'' said Jack Foley, head of distribution for Focus Features, which released ``Shaun.''

The Katie Homes comedy ``First Daughter,'' the year's second romantic fantasy about presidential offspring trying to escape the glare of public scrutiny, opened even more weakly than its predecessor, Mandy Moore's ``Chasing Liberty,'' which debuted last January with $6 million.

The reviews for both films were scathing, and the similarities between ``First Daughter'' and ``Chasing Liberty'' likely dampened its debut, even though they were made at about the same time.

``It can hurt a movie if it's too similar to another recent film,'' Dergarabedian said.

Last week's top movie, ``Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,'' fell to second place with $6.7 million for a total of $25.6 million in its second week, while the Bernie Mac baseball comedy ``Mr. 3000'' was third with $5 million and a total of $15.3 million.

In limited release, ``The Motorcycle Diaries,'' a Robert Redford-produced accounting of communist revolutionary Che Guevara's youthful escapades across South America, opened in only three theaters but collected an average of $52,351 in each. By comparison, ``The Forgotten'' had an average of only $7,088 in 3,104 screens.

``The Last Shot,'' a Matthew Broderick comedy about a wannabe director duped into making a false movie in an FBI attempt to bust some gangsters, had a weak debut in 35 theaters, collecting only an average of $4,829 in each.

The overall box office was $60 million, down about 25 percent from the same time last year when ``The Rundown'' and ``Under the Tuscan Sun'' were the top earners. Dergarabedian noted a sinking trend at the box office over the past month, which is traditionally a slow time at theaters _ but unusually slow this time.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. ``The Forgotten,'' $22 million.

2. ``Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,'' $6.7 million.

3. ``Mr. 3000,'' $5 million.

4. (tie) ``First Daughter,'' $4 million.

4. (tie) ``Resident Evil: Apocalypse,'' $4 million.

6. ``Cellular,'' $3.7 million.

7. ``Wimbledon,'' $3.4 million.

8. ``Shaun of the Dead,'' $3.3 million.

9. ``Without a Paddle,'' $2.4 million.

10. ``Hero,'' $2.3 million.
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