Ben Stiller’s Hollywood satire Tropic Thunder is No. 1 yet again. The R-rated comedy stayed on top of a sluggish Labor Day weekend box office with a four-day gross of $14.3 mil. Thus, in a relatively surprising turn of events, it remained champion for the third straight weekend, becoming just the second movie of 2008 to score a threepeat (The Dark Knight is the other flick to achieve the feat, duh). Tropic Thunder has earned a nice $86.6 mil domestically so far — thanks in part to an utter dearth of robust competition.
To wit, Babylon A.D., this weekend’s best chance for a big new hit, and all the other new releases, struggled. Vin Diesel’s sci-fi epic (No. 2) banked just $12 mil from Friday through Monday and a mere $9.6 mil in its three-day debut (and it earned — ouch! — a deadly D+ CinemaScore grade from audiences). It’s Diesel’s poorest-performing wide opener since 2002’s Knockaround Guys.
Still, it wasn’t the only freshman film to flounder. Don Cheadle’s espionage thriller Traitor managed a mere fifth-place finish with a good-but-not-great $10 mil over four days. The ill-timed spoof comedy Disaster Movie (No. 7) brought in a gross of just $6.9 mil and a CinemaScore grade of F, while in the real world Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast. The crass comedy College earned a CinemaScore grade of C+ but still got expelled with a pathetic $2.6 mil take. And frailty, thy name is Hamlet 2! The musical farce continued to disappoint, earning $2.1 mil in its first weekend of wide release.
All that bad news meant good things for some strong holdovers. Having earned $11 mil from Friday to Monday, The Dark Knight moved up to No. 3 — and, with $504.7 mil in only 45 days, it became the second movie in history (after Titanic, of course) to cross the $500 million mark at the domestic box office. And last weekend’s sole success story, The House Bunny, hung in there at No. 4, with $10.2 mil over four days.
So what’s it all mean, as the summer comes to an end? As you might have figured, the overall box office this weekend was down more than 16 percent from the same frame a year ago, when the Halloween remake bowed big. That makes this the sixth straight ”down” weekend at the multiplex. Nevertheless — nevertheless! — Hollywood has reason to smile: Largely due to a rise in ticket prices, the summer of 2008 managed to just about stay on par with the record-breaking summer of 2007. Which is good.