Box Office: Legends, Exorcist Scare Up Business

Halloween came early at the box office this weekend, as audiences surged to see Urban Legends: Final Cut and the re-release of The Exorcist, both of which can be called horrific, but for far different reasons.

Final Cut, the sequel to the 1998 movie, features a mostly no-name cast (unless you count ex-Blossom boy Joey Lawrence) in what critics have dismissed as a tired retread of the teen slasher genre. It took in an estimated $8.8 million to top the box office.

Exorcist: Still Scary The Exorcist, which many critics feel still lives up to its reputation as "the scariest movie of all time," returned to theaters with previously unseen footage and digitally enhanced sound. Although it played on just 664 screens, it captured the No. 2 spot with $8.5 million and a per-screen-average of $12,801. The theatrical run precedes the release of the new version on DVD.

The other newsworthy charter this week is Almost Famous, which continues to expand slowly across the country. The '70s-era music story came in at No. 3 with $7 million. DreamWorks plans to add 400 to 500 more screens for the well-reviewed film next week.

Cruz Is Hot, but Not a Woman on Top Hot Spanish import Penélope Cruz didn't quite fulfill the title of her film Woman on Top, which opened in 10th place with $1.9 million. Still, the "It" status of the photogenic international beauty is undeniable. Look for her in upcoming movies opposite Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky), Johnny Depp (Blow), Nicolas Cage (Captain Corelli's Mandolin), and Matt Damon (All the Pretty Horses).

Meanwhile, the so-so suspenser The Watcher, which has topped a tepid slate of films for the last two weeks, dropped to fifth place, while the suburban ghost tale What Lies Beneath proved its staying power by making the Top 10 for the 10th week. The Keanu Reeves-James Spader thriller has so far pulled in $22.7 million, while Beneath's 10-week total is $148.5 million. Beneath and another Top 10 old-timer, Space Cowboys, tied for eighth place in early box-office estimates.

Rounding out the Top Five was the cheerleading romp Bring It On, which placed fourth with $4.5 million. After five weeks, it's racked up a surprising $55.9 million, astounding box-office prognosticators.

Coming Soon: Prestige Pics Despite the more vigorous box-office showing this weekend, overall box office is down for the 10th week in a row, compared to the same time last year, according to Exhibitor Relations. But fret not, gentle moviegoers: Studios will start unveiling their Oscar hopefuls in the coming weeks, starting with Remember the Titans next week and Pay It Forward and The Contender in October.

Studios are also looking to cash in on audiences' insatiable appetite for horror, with the Halloween weekend release of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.

The Top 10 films for Sept. 22-24, 2000:

1. Urban Legends: Final Cut, $8.8 million 2. The Exorcist, $8.5 million 3. Almost Famous, $7 million 4. Bring It On, $4.2 million 5. The Watcher, $3.6 million 6. Bait, $3.4 million 7. Nurse Betty, $3.3 million 8. (tie) Space Cowboys, $2.2 million 8. (tie) What Lies Beneath, $2.2 million 10.Woman on Top, $1.9 million

Final figures will be released Monday.