Labor Day weekend moviegoers still seeing 'Signs'

— Moviegoers spent another weekend staring at crop circles as Mel Gibson's "Signs" topped the box office again, taking in $16.5 million during the long Labor Day weekend.

The season's top sleeper hit, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" had its best weekend yet in five months of release, climbing to second place with $14.6 million from Friday to Monday.

The weekend's only new wide release, the horror flick "fear dot com," debuted at No. 5 with $7.12 million, according to studio estimates Monday.

Hollywood revenues were off for the seventh straight weekend after robust returns for the first half of summer. The top 12 movies grossed $82.2 million in the long weekend, down 12.4 percent from the record Labor Day weekend the industry posted last year.

Revenues from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day still set a summer record of about $3.15 billion, beating last year's record of $3.06 billion, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. But factoring in higher ticket prices, admissions were down slightly this summer.

Tracking revenues from early May, though, when "Spider-Man" shattered box office records, admissions were up 6.5 percent. The industry took in $3.8 billion from early May through Labor Day, up 10 percent from the same period in 2001, Dergarabedian said.

"Greek Wedding" expanded to 1,619 theaters, up 290 from the previous weekend, averaging an impressive $9,017 per cinema, lifting its gross to $82.3 million and putting it on track to hit $100 million.

"Some of us were talking at the beginning about $20 or $25 million if we're lucky, but no one ever dreamed of hitting $100 million," said Rob Schwartz, head of distribution for IFC Films, which released "Greek Wedding."

"Signs," the tale of a farmer coping with mysterious crop circles and visitors from the skies, is on its way to $200 million. The film, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense"), averaged $4,805 per screen in 3,437 theaters and has grossed $195.1 million in a month.

No. 1 in early August, "Signs" slipped to second place behind "XXX" for two weekends, then reclaimed the top spot last week.

For the Labor Day holiday, "Signs" drew a mix of first-time viewers and repeat business, said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which released the film.

"Labor Day has historically shown everyone that that is the weekend the public either likes to repeat their viewing or catch up with movies they haven't seen yet," Viane said.

Two critically acclaimed films expanded to more theaters and climbed into the top 10. Jennifer Aniston's dark comedy "The Good Girl" came in at No. 9 with $3.6 million in 667 theaters, up 479 from the previous weekend.

Robin Williams' stalking thriller "One Hour Photo" was No. 10 with $3.33 million, expanding to 164 theaters after debuting at seven cinemas a week earlier. "One Hour Photo" averaged a whopping $20,274 a theater and goes into nationwide release Sept. 13.

Distributor Fox Searchlight released "The Good Girl" and "One Hour Photo" in late summer as smarter alternatives to the onslaught of lower-brow blockbusters.

"August has been traditionally a really good time for counter-programming after the big, high-concept sequels, sci-fi and action movies," said Steve Gilula, Fox Searchlight head of distribution. "By August, serious moviegoers feel left out in the cold and are really looking for something different."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures were to be released today.

1. "Signs," $16.5 million.

2. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," $14.6 million.

3. "XXX," $13.1 million.

4. "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams," $7.3 million.

5. "fear dot com," $7.12 million.

6. "Austin Powers in Goldmember," $7.1 million.

7. "Blue Crush," $5.4 million.

8. "Serving Sara," $4.2 million.

9. "The Good Girl," $3.6 million.

10. "One Hour Photo," $3.33 million.

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