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''Bring It On'' remains No. 1 at the box office

”Highlander: Endgame” is the only newcomer to land in the top five

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Eliza Dushku, Kirsten Dunst, ...

The summer came to an uninspiring close as ”Bring It On” topped the Labor Day box office for the second weekend in a row, earning $14.2 million. Universal honchos may be cheering the $37 million 10 day take the $10 million budgeted softporn-in-bobbysocks comedy has so far managed. But other Hollywood execs — like the rest of us — are no doubt ready for the substantial fall film season to begin. Over the four day holiday weekend, Jennifer Lopez’s ”The Cell” (No. 2) pulled in $8.9 million, while Clint Eastwood’s ”Space Cowboys” (No. 3) rustled up another $8.6 mil in its fifth week of release. Wesley Snipes’ ”The Art of War” meanwhile slid from second to fourth place ($7.7 million), and the newcomer ”Highlander: Endgame” opened at No. 5, with $6 million on about 1,500 screens.

Labor Day’s only other big newcomer, the Amanda Peet romantic comedy ”Whipped,” also premiered on about 1,500 screens, but it took in a paltry $2.7 million. Such lowly earnings are hardly a shock to analysts, though. The record for the best Labor Day debut is only $9.8 million, for 1996’s ”The Crow: City of Angels.” Overall this summer’s box office earnings were about $2.75 billion, down from last year’s total of $3.2 billion. Because ticket prices have gone up since last summer, this means fewer people are going to the movies. Analysts say that individual ticket sales have fallen off as much as 10 to 15 percent.

Much to the surprise of many industry watchers, one August film to have defied the summer gloom is the British pot smoking flick ”Saving Grace.” The critically lauded import debuted four weeks ago on a mere 30 screens. It was then bumped up to 250 theaters, where it started earning more per screen than such blockbusters as ”The X-Men” and ”What Lies Beneath.” This prompted distributor Fine Line to broaden the film’s release to 875 screens (the second largest release in the studio’s history, after ”Shine”), where it went on to take in nearly $3 mil over Labor Day weekend. Talk of an Oscar nod for Brenda Blethyn — who plays a cash strapped housewife who starts a pot farm in order to make ends meet — has the studio hoping for ”Full Monty” style success.

CRITICAL MASS The only newcomer this weekend to earn snaps from EW.com readers was ”Highlander: Endgame.” While the Dimension franchise may not have merited a 2,000 plus theater release, zealous followers of the ”Highlander” series no doubt helped it score its top five debut. Overall readers graded the film a B+, with some 81 percent indicating that they are very likely to see the movie again. Likewise, a whopping 74 percent said that they would recommend the Conner and Duncan MacLeod starrer to friends. Critics, meanwhile, have yet to weigh in with their grades.

This week’s No. 1 movie, ”Bring It On,” scored a solid grade of B+ with EW.com readers. The cheerleader movie’s major rival ”The Art of War,” meanwhile, earned a lowly C+, and about 43 percent of viewers said they wouldn’t recommend the Wesley Snipes action flick to friends. But there is hope for the fall season. Next week’s new release ”Nurse Betty,” starring Renée Zellweger and Chris Rock, premiered last spring to high critical praise at the Cannes Film Festival. In general, we should be seeing a lot more Oscar caliber performances in the months leading up to Christmas. Hey, can we hear a ”Bring It On” size cheer for that?

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