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''Bring It On'' leads the box office

The Kirsten Dunst cheerleader comedy kicks off strongly, while ”Cowboys” and ”Kings” hold steady

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Kirsten Dunst, Bring It On
Bring It On: Ken Jacques

As if we needed MORE proof that perky blond cheerleaders always win in the end: ”Bring It On,” a bouncy comedy about high school pep squads, scored the top position at the weekend box office, according to studio estimates. Moviegoers flipped for the Kirsten Dunst/ Eliza Dushku movie to the tune of $17.4 million — a Friday to Sunday number that’s even more impressive considering the generally weak performances of the summer’s teen oriented fare like ”Loser” and ”The In-Crowd.” Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, told the AP that this weekend girls made most of the ticket-buying decisions. ”[‘Bring It On’] had real female appeal, and there’s not been a lot this summer targeted at women and girls,” he said. ”When you starve an audience for something, they will come out and see it when you finally tap into that audience.” The film’s distributor, Universal, is likely to earn a decent profit, since the movie cost less than $10 million to make.

Wesley Snipes’ secret agent thriller ”The Art of War” premiered in second place, with $11.2 million, while the mobster caper comedy ”The Crew” — the second August movie to feature a geriatric quartet on a last-chance job — opened at No. 7, with $4.1 million. Last weekend’s top movie, ”The Cell” dropped to third place, earning $9.6 million. The summer’s other gray haired actioner, ”Space Cowboys,” continued to play well in its fourth weekend, holding at No. 4, with $6.6 million. ”The Original Kings of Comedy,” Spike Lee’s chronicle of the record breaking stand-up comedy tour, took the No. 5 position, earning another $6.1 million. ”Kings,” which is playing on only 875 screens nationwide, also boasted the best per screen average of all major releases.

CRITICAL MASS

”Bring It On” didn’t just score big bucks this weekend: It also scored some of the warmest reviews of August from EW.com’s readers. Overall, voters gave the cheerleader comedy an A-/ B+, with younger respondents giving the higher grade. A whopping 77 percent of ticket buyers said that the movie was even better than they expected, and 60 percent said they’d recommend the movie to friends. And despite the weaker performance of some of star Kirsten Dunst’s previous teen satires (”Dick,” ”Drop Dead Gorgeous”), she has a lot of loyal fans: Forty percent said they tried ”Bring It On” in order to see Dunst and Dushku.

Meanwhile, Wesley Snipes and his fists of fury took a beating from online voters, who gave ”The Art of War” an average grade of C. 40 percent of the thriller’s audience admired the movie’s superslick trailer — as well as its brooding, brawny star. But 42 percent told EW.com that ”Art of War” was worse than they expected — and the same number said they would definitely not recommend it to friends. ”The Crew” hasn’t yet generated a big enough online response to draw any conclusions — but if its average grade of C is any indication, the caper doesn’t stand a good chance of remaining in theaters post Labor Day. Maybe what these genre pictures really need to spur them on is… a posse of cute, high-kicking cheerleaders.

To vote on these and other current movies, visit our Critical Mass Movie Poll.