''Enemy at the Gates'' also debuts strongly, and two Oscar contenders pass the $100 million mark

By Justine Elias
Updated March 21, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
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Maybe it was the addition of rapper DMX, or the subtraction of star Steven Seagal’s signature ponytail — whatever the reason, the critically savaged ”Exit Wounds” was the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend, taking in $19 million, according to industry estimates. Seagal scored early ’90s action hits with ”Under Siege” and ”Marked for Death,” but his recent movies, like 1997’s ”Fire Down Below,” had opened with a paltry $6.1 million — indicating just how much the star’s drawing power (and the ”one man army” action genre in general) had slipped. Pairing Seagal with DMX was ”a stroke of genius,” Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, told the Associated Press. ”It makes Seagal more relevant today.”

Though the No. 2 film, ”Enemy at the Gates,” opened on only half as many screens as ”Exit Wounds,” the WWII action drama also had a powerful debut, grossing $13.6 million. (Its distributor, Paramount, hopes to capitalize on some positive reviews and good word of mouth when this tale of dueling snipers in the Battle of Stalingrad goes into even wider release March 23.) ”The Mexican” (No. 3, $8.1 million), which held the top spot for two weeks, slid a bit yet surpassed $50 million in total grosses, while the kid friendly, dog happy David Arquette comedy ”See Spot Run” (No. 4, $5.2 million) continues to clean up in its fourth week of release.

The Robert De Niro – Ed Burns crime thriller ”15 Minutes” (No. 5, $4.3 million) slumped in its second weekend, dropping off 58 percent from its debut. Finally, two Best Picture candidates, ”Traffic” and ”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” passed the $100 million mark this weekend. That’ll be cause for huge celebration at their respective studios, USA Films and Sony Classics, which are known for art house movies, not blockbusters like these movies have become.

CRITICAL MASS EW.com’s poll indicates that the weekend’s No. 2 movie, ”Enemy at the Gates,” may have a bright future. Though EW’s critic gave it a C+, praising Jude Law’s performance as a Russian farmboy turned hero sniper but criticizing the movie’s decision to leave out questions of politics (both Nazi and Communist), EW.com readers were willing to overlook those lapses.

Ticket buyers say they turned out for the stars (33 percent say they showed up for Law, Ed Harris, and a post ”Shakespeare in Love” Joseph Fiennes), and 25 percent say they liked the movie’s slick trailer. Fully 54 percent say the European flavored movie was better than they expected. Word of mouth recommendations also look good: 58 percent say they’ll definitely recommend ”Enemy” to friends, and another 33 percent say they probably will recommend it. Maybe it’s time to update the old adage: War is hell, but movies about it are worth catching.

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