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''Stomp the Yard'' dances to the top

Dancing frat daddies take the No. 1 spot for the second weekend in a row; meanwhile, the new horror flick ”The Hitcher” fails to match its gross predictions

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Stomp the Yard, Chris Brown
Stomp the Yard: Alfeo Dixon

On a slow but unpredictable weekend at the box office, holdovers Stomp the Yard ($13.3 million) and Night at the Museum ($13 mil) finished a close 1-2, according to Sunday’s estimates. Separated by a piddling $300,000, the films could switch places once final numbers are tallied on Monday, especially since we still don’t know, for instance, how much today’s NFL playoff games (go Tom!) are cutting into movie attendance, as such marquee events tend to do.

Regardless, this is very good news for both of the weekend’s winners. STY dropped just 39 percent to bring its two-week cumulative gross to $41.6 mil—truly excellent for a film that reportedly cost just $14 mil. NATM, meanwhile, declined a teensy 24 percent in its fifth weekend, as it brought its domestic total to $205.8 mil. In doing so, it passed Superman Returns to become the No. 5 earner among 2006 releases, and it also snuck by Batman Begins for 67th place on the all-time list. Yep, Ben Stiller truly is a box office superhero.

Of course, with such movies of steel, there had to be a few losers. And the two biggest duds this weekend were The Hitcher, which scared up a paltry $8.2 mil at No. 4—and, erm, yours truly, because I picked The Hitcher to finish, I believe my words were, ”an easy No. 1.” Yikes. Well, now, okay, let’s talk this through. In my preview column on Friday I invited you to take a breather on the last weekend before the Oscar hoopla really begins. But I didn’t expect you to really listen to me (hell, nobody else in my life does)! In doing so, you helped perpetuate a dry spell for horror movies that goes back to last October. Since then, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Grudge 2, and Black Christmas have disappointed big time. And that’s why I felt like the genre was due. But I guess not. So what can we make of all this? I mean, I can live with flubbing a prediction for a week, but can the horror genre survive this downtrend? Is it just that none of those flopped fright flicks were particularly good? Is this historically up-and-down genre now simply in one of its zeitgeist valleys? Can any horror movie break out between now and October 26, when Saw IV opens? It’ll be interesting to see.

In the meantime, back to the silly-season contenders, which dominated the rest of the weekend. Dreamgirls (No. 3) added another 307 theaters to finish up 4 percent, with a decent $8.7 mil. The Pursuit of Happyness brought in $6.7 mil at No. 5. And Pan’s Labyrinth (No. 7), The Queen (No. 8), Babel (No. 12), The Last King of Scotland (No. 17), and Letters From Iwo Jima (No. 19) all substantially expanded their runs. Although none of those long-playing movies earned more than $4.7 mil, they flooded the top 20 on a soft weekend that, says peppy Paul at Media By Numbers, was off a sizable 18 percent from a year ago.

And while we ponder that disquieting fact, I’m gonna head out and start banking up on sleep before the big 5:30 a.m. (L.A. time, that is) Oscar nominations announcement on Tuesday. Oh, yes, my friends, the silly season is almost upon us.