Action star Steven Seagal scored a solid comeback with “Exit Wounds,” a crime thriller that debuted as the weekend’s top film with $19 million.
The movie, which co-stars rapper DMX, was Seagal’s best opening ever, topping the $14-million debut of “Under Siege” in 1992.
“Enemy at the Gates,” a World War II adventure starring Jude Law and Ed Harris, premiered at No. 2 with $13.6 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Oscar best picture nominees “Traffic” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” both passed $100 million over the weekend. Twenty-two movies released in 2000 crossed that mark, breaking the previous record of 21 set in 1999.
The overall box office slipped for the second straight weekend after months of increased revenues. The top 12 movies grossed $73.6 million, down 1.3% from the same weekend a year ago.
“Exit Wounds” stars Seagal as a rebel detective who teams with a crime lord (DMX) to fight corruption in an inner-city police precinct.
In just three days, the movie has passed the $16.1-million total for Seagal’s last film, “Fire Down Below” in 1997. “Exit Wounds” also will quickly pass the $20.4-million total for Seagal’s “The Glimmer Man” from 1996.
“It’s a sensational comeback for Steven. He’s thrilled about it,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released “Exit Wounds.”
Fellman credited producer Joel Silver for pairing Seagal with DMX, whose popularity greatly broadened the movie’s appeal.
“It’s a stroke of genius putting them together. It makes Seagal more relevant today by putting him with somebody who’s extremely relevant today,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office.
Playing in 2,830 theaters, “Exit Wounds” averaged a solid $6,723 a cinema. “Enemy at the Gates” played in just 1,503 locations but had an impressive average of $9,013 a theater.
Set during the siege of Stalingrad, the movie stars Law as a Russian sniper engaged in a long-distance duel with a Nazi counterpart (Harris).
Distributor Paramount is rolling the movie out more slowly than other big releases, hoping it will benefit from good word-of-mouth from audiences, said Rob Friedman, vice chairman of the studio’s motion picture group.
“It’s a sophisticated World War II movie. It’s not Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks; it’s not as high-profile as some other films,” Friedman said. “We wanted to take an extra week or so to get the film into some smaller towns.”
Paramount plans to expand the film to a couple hundred more theaters next weekend, Friedman said.
Three films did well in limited release: The convoluted revenge thriller “Memento” ($236,697 in 11 theaters, for a $21,518 average); “The Dish,” a comic look at an Australian satellite team’s role in the first moon landing ($73,000 in six theaters, for a $12,167 average); and “American Desi,” a romantic comedy set among second-generation Indian immigrants ($306,000 in 38 theaters, for an $8,053 average).
“Memento” has caught good buzz on the Internet and from its screenplay award at January’s Sundance Film Festival.
The unusual narrative begins at the film’s end and winds backward. Guy Pearce plays a man who cannot form new memories, who scribbles notes and tattoos clues on his body to track his wife’s murderer. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano co-star.
Distributor Newmarket Films plans to expand the film to more markets in late March and April, said Bob Berney, a distribution consultant for the company.
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Estimated weekend grosses (in millions):
1. “Exit Wounds”: $19
2. “Enemy at the Gates”: $13.6
3. “The Mexican”: $8.1
4. “See Spot Run”: $5.2
5. “15 Minutes”: $4.4
6. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”: $4.1
7. “Down to Earth”: $4
8. “Hannibal”: $3.7
9. “Traffic”: $3.41
10. “Chocolat”: $3.4