LOS ANGELES -- It was an odd mix of kiss kiss, slash slash at the weekend box office as movie-goers split their attention between a 1960s chick flick and a tale of Victorian-era mass murder.
Johnny Depp's Jack the Ripper thriller "From Hell" debuted as the weekend's No. 1 movie with $11 million. "Riding in Cars With Boys," a tale of reluctant motherhood in the mid-1960s starring Drew Barrymore, opened a close second with $10.4 million.
The weekend's other new wide-release film, Robert Redford's military-prison drama "The Last Castle," was No. 5 with $7.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"Training Day," the top film for the last two weekends, slipped to No. 3 with $9.3 million, pushing its total to $57.3 million. "Bandits," which opened at No. 2 a week ago, fell to fourth place with $8.3 million.
Though only half a million dollars separated the top two films, "From Hell" distributor 20th Century Fox gets bragging rights for winning the weekend. Ads proclaiming a film the No. 1 movie in America are a powerful marketing tool for Hollywood.
"It means something to the public, I guess, because they want to see what the No. 1 movie is," said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution for Fox. "For us, opening against a Drew Barrymore film and a Robert Redford film, it's pretty nice to get that pole position."
Some studios had expected their new films to perform better, with Sony hoping "Riding in Cars With Boys" would gross in the $12 million range and DreamWorks figuring "The Last Castle" would come in at about $10 million.
Still, the overall box office was up slightly over last year. The top 12 films grossed $74.5 million, up about 4 percent from the same weekend last year, a sign that worries over the terrorist attacks and anthrax threats were not keeping people out of movie theaters.
But it was a relatively flat market compared to many weekends this year, when the box office posted big revenue increases over the same weekends in 2000. Other than "Training Day" two weeks ago, new films are opening to modest numbers.
"I think there may be a lot of global reasons why the market isn't expanding like it was earlier in the year," said Jeff Blake, head of distribution at Sony. "I think the main reasons maybe everybody's getting a little less than they hoped is there's a lot of new movies out there. Three or four new pictures a week is tough for the market to absorb."
A year ago, the market had been dominated by two films, "Meet the Parents" and "Remember the Titans."
"This is as solid a crop of films as you can have at this time of year, but there's nothing tearing it up like 'Meet the Parents' did," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "It's the calm before the storm now, waiting for the big holiday releases."
The blockbuster parade begins in two weeks. "Monsters Inc.," from the makers of "Toy Story," opens Nov. 2, with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" coming just before Thanksgiving and "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" following in December.
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