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'Tropic Thunder' hangs on at No. 1

Ben Stiller’s comedy won the weekend box office opposite the Olympics and solid newcomer ”The House Bunny,” while ”Death Race” blew a flat

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Jack Black, Nick Nolte, ...

Facing generally weak competition from a slew of low-buzz new releases and strong opposition from the waning days of the Beijing Summer Olympics, Tropic Thunder eked out a repeat win at the box office this weekend, while The House Bunny was an impressive No. 2 and Death Race ran out of gas.

In a turn of events that I should have seen coming, Ben Stiller’s action satire grossed a very nice $16.1 mil on a slight 38 percent drop, raising its two-week sum to a sweet $65.7 mil. It’s just the third movie of the summer to repeat at No. 1 (after Iron Man and The Dark Knight), the fifth film of the year to do so (21 and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! also managed the feat), and the first R-rated flick of 2008 to return as champ.

Anna Faris‘ Playboy-infused college comedy, The House Bunny, was next, with a sexy $15.1 mil gross, thanks to a crowd that was three-quarters female and two-thirds under the age of 25. All of which is pretty cool, but the fact that the ladies awarded the film a just-okay B+ CinemaScore means that its long-term box-office prospects aren’t so hot.

Ditto Death Race, which went into the weekend as the presumptive favorite, but motored to a mere $12.3 mil finish at No. 3. Although it makes for yet another solid $10 mil-plus late-summer bow for star Jason Statham (and it improves upon the $9.8 mil that his War premiered with a year ago), this result amounts to an unattractive $4,855 per-theater average and comes with an underwhelming B+ CinemaScore grade from a heavily male-skewing audience.

Elsewhere, The Dark Knight (No. 4 with $10.3 mil), which at $489.2 mil is now within Bat-spitting distance of the $500 mil domestic mark, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars (No. 5 with $5.7 mil) rounded out the top five. New releases The Longshots (No. 8 with $4.3 mil, despite a solid A CinemaScore) and The Rocker (No. 12 with $2.8 mil) lived up to their low expectations. And the musical-comedy Sundance favorite Hamlet 2 was not to be, banking just $435,294 in 103 locations.

Overall, this typically slow end-of-August weekend was down 4 percent from the same frame a year ago, when holdovers Superbad and The Bourne Ultimatum led the way. And while the box office appears to be slowing down as we head into the Labor Day weekend, it’s doing so with a total summer gross ($3.9 billion) that’s up 1 percent from 2007. Bravo, box office!