Box Office: Gentlemen (and Ladies) Prefer Blonde

Blondes. Taxis stop for them, men buy them drinks, and now moviegoers can't get enough of them either. You'd think it would almost be worth putting up with all of those jokes.

Reese Witherspoon staked her claim to A-list status, boosting the MGM comedy Legally Blonde to the head of a crowded slate at the nation's theaters. All by herself — no, Luke Wilson doesn't count — the 25-year-old actress edged out runner-up The Score, with its Stanislavskian triple-threat marquee of Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton.

Blonde's weekend ticket sales totaled a muscular $20.4 million, according to studio estimates released earlier today. That's roughly the same amount that Witherspoon's first vehicle, the 1996 thriller Fear, in which she starred opposite Mark Wahlberg, took in over the course of its entire theatrical release.

Previously, the best opening weekend take for a movie featuring Witherspoon in a starring role was the $13 million grossed by Cruel Intentions in 1999 — but that teen drama also drew on the clout of Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar and Witherspoon's husband, actor Ryan Phillippe.

Score in Second, Fantasy Flops The Score, with the notoriety of living legends Brando and De Niro driving it, took in an estimated $19 million to finish second. The heist thriller enjoyed one of the better weekends rung up by an R-rated film, bettering the debut of Swordfish and coming up just short of the first-weekend numbers posted by Scary Movie 2.

Last weekend's big winner, the pet-centric Cats & Dogs, tumbled from its lofty perch to finish third with ticket sales of approximately $12 million. Its drop in earnings of approximately 45 percent put it on similar footing as nearly every other movie that has topped the box office this summer.

The weekend's third major new release, Sony's much-ballyhooed Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, finished fourth but couldn't compete with the numbers posted by fellow newcomers Blonde and The Score. (All three films were on relatively equal footing, with Blonde and Final Fantasy opening at slightly more than 2,600 theaters apiece, and 2,129 sites booked for The Score.)

The revolutionary animated film, which opened Wednesday, amassed accolades for its eye-poppingly realistic computer animation but earned only $11.5 million over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, pushing its total take to just more than $19 million. With estimates placing its production costs between $135 million and $145 million, the sci-fi epic could eventually rank as one of 2001's biggest busts.

The Top 10 films for July 13-15, 2001: Legally Blonde, $20.4 million The Score, $19 million Cats & Dogs, $12 million Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, $11.5 million Scary Movie 2, $9.5 million The Fast and the Furious, $7.8 million Dr. Dolittle 2, $7 million Kiss of the Dragon, $5.8 million A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, $5.1 million Tomb Raider, $4 million Final figures will be released Monday.

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