Things could hardly have been sweeter for Sweet Home Alabama.
Reese Witherspoon's new romantic comedy debuted with $35.6 million, a record for a September opening.
This frothy piece of fluff, starring the Legally Blonde cutie dithering between a smooth New York beau (Patrick Dempsey) and her hunky Southern hubby (Josh Lucas), kissed off the previous September record held by the action comedy Rush Hour, which racked up $33 million in 1998. That Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker flick went on to gross $141.1 million and spawned a big sequel. Although it's unlikely that Witherspoon's current crowdpleaser will get that huge, it definitely cemented her credentials as a major star.
And in one fell swoop this weekend, Reese managed to kick Chan's butt twice. Not only did Alabama break Rush Hour's record, but it also did more than twice as much business as Chan's latest flick, The Tuxedo.
The sartorial action farce, in which the well-dressed martial arts man suits up with Jennifer Love Hewitt, debuted in second place with just $15.1 million.
Even more impressively, Witherspoon's PG-13 Disney release averaged a very cozy $10,826 per 3,293 screens, while Chan's PG-13 DreamWorks flick only averaged $4,980 at 3,022 sites.
The Tuxedo's per-site average barely clipped the $4,880 per screen earned by Barbershop. After two weeks at number one, the controversial laugher slipped only 22 percent to third place, where it earned $10 million from just 2,051 screens. The MGM film's gross now stands at $51.4 million.
Nudged down a slot to fourth place was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The $9.4 million earned this week pushed the indie hit's total gross to $136.6 million after 24 weeks of charming audiences.
On the flipside, The Banger Sisters went completely bust, dropping off 46 percent. The Goldie Hawn-Susan Sarandon buddy comedy earned just $5.4 million in fifth place, bringing its two week total to $18.8 million.
Hawn's daughter, Kate Hudson, also had some bad box-office news. The Four Feathers, in which she stars with Heath Ledger and Wes Bentley , molted, dropping 48 percent from its opening week and tumbling to sixth place with $3.6 million. So far, the Paramount costume drama has earned a meager $12.4 million.
There was some good news, though, for Sarandon. Moonlight Mile, in which she stars with Dustin Hoffman and Jake Gyllenhaal, lit up the cash registers in limited release. On just 22 screens, the emotional PG-13 Disney-released drama averaged a bright $14,990 for a total of $330,000.
At just six screens, The Man from Elysian Fields, featuring Andy Garcia as a writer caught in the world of Hollywood escort services, averaged $7,726, earning the R-rated IDP/Fireworks release $46,353.
Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $91.8 million, according to final studio figures Monday, 34 percent more than last weekend and 43 percent more that the same time last year.
Here is a recap of the top 10 films, as compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Sweet Home Alabama, $35.6 million
2. The Tuxedo, $15.1 million
3. Barbershop, $10 million
4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, $9.4 million
5. The Banger Sisters, $5.4 million
6. The Four Feathers, $3.6 million
7. One Hour Photo, $3 million
8. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, $2.7 million
9. Signs, $2.4 million
10. Swimfan, $1.6 million
(Originally published 9/29/02 at 1:35 p.m. PT.)