'Blade 2,' 'Ice Age' maintain mammoth March momentum

— "Blade 2" and vampire slayer Wesley Snipes sucked $33.1 million out of moviegoers to debut as the top weekend film and help continue a March box office boom.

"Ice Age," the animated comedy about prehistoric creatures caught by a big freeze, was close behind with $31.1 million in its second weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

In third, the 20th anniversary reissue "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial" pulled in $15.1 million, the fourth-best weekend opening for a re-release. The first three "Star Wars" films have the top honors, with "Star Wars � Special Edition" scoring $35.9 million the weekend it opened in January 1997.

"We're very proud of 'E.T.'," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. The film needs to take in only $16.2 million more to move ahead of "Star Wars: Episode I � The Phantom Menace" and take the No. 3 spot on the list of all-time top grossing films.

Together the top 12 weekend films grossed an estimated $121 million, exceeding the box office take for the same weekend last year by nearly 74 percent. They also narrowly topped the record March take from a week earlier, generating summer-like returns months before the customary blockbuster season begins.

"This could be the biggest March weekend ever. Studios are going to look at March in a new light now," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

"Blade 2," which brings Snipes back as the half-man, half-bloodsucker Marvel comic character who kills vampires, nearly doubled the debut weekend take of the original 1998 film.

Playing in 2,707 cinemas across the country, "Blade 2" averaged an impressive $12,228 a theater, and attracted male and female audiences equally.

Originally typified by cheap, inferior knockoffs, the sequel has become a higher art form as studios realize that careful follow-ups can turn into a license to print money.

"The power of the sequel remains," said Russell Schwartz, president of domestic marketing for New Line Cinema. He said screenwriter David Goyer is already signed to write "Blade 3."

"Ice Age," which had the best March opening ever with $46.3 million last weekend, showed staying power as it attracted children, adults and the dating crowd.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.:

1. "Blade 2," $33.1 million.

2. "Ice Age," $31.1 million.

3. "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial," $15.1 million.

4. "Showtime," $8.2 million.

5. "Resident Evil," $6.6 million.

6. "We Were Soldiers," $5.8 million.

7. "The Time Machine," $5.2 million.

8. "A Beautiful Mind," $4.3 million.

9. "Sorority Boys," $4.2 million.

10. "40 Days and 40 Nights," $2.7 million.

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