‘The American’ takes top spot by a nose

'The American' takes top spot by a nose

George Clooney squeaks by a relatively unknown star in this weekend’s box office race.

In the battle of the box office assassins, A-lister George Clooney barely mustered more firepower with his new chart-topper “The American” than the relatively unknown star of “Machete,” as the summer moviegoing season wrapped feebly during the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“The American,” in which Clooney plays a laconic gunslinger holed up in a picturesque Italian village, earned $16.4 million across the United States and Canada during the four days beginning September 3, distributor Focus Features said on Monday.

“Machete,” a violent fantasy starring character actor Danny Trejo as a Mexican hitman with a penchant for sharp objects, came in at No. 2 with $14.0 million, said 20th Century Fox.

Both studios said they were happy with the openings, which exceeded modest expectations, even if the movies are not destined for box office greatness. Clooney’s movies, for example, usually end up in the $30 million to $40 million range, and Focus doubted the new one would buck that trend.

'The American' takes top spot by a nose

The top 10 boasted one other newcomer, the optimistically titled Drew Barrymore romantic comedy “Going the Distance,” which stalled at the outset. It came in at No. 5 with a disappointing $8.6 million, said Warner Bros. Pictures.

Both “Machete” and “Going the Distance” opened on Friday, while “The American” got a two-day head start and has earned $19.5 million to date.

Last weekend’s champion, the Sony Pictures heist thriller “Takers,” slipped to No. 3 with $13.5 million; its 11-day haul rose to $40 million.

Sales for the top-12 films fell to their lowest level in almost a year, a fitting coda to a summer lineup whose weak performance was obscured by the 3D boom.

While sales from the first weekend in May through Monday are projected to break last year’s record, the increase comes solely from higher ticket prices. The number of tickets sold — a better gauge of Hollywood’s health — hit its lowest level since 1997.

'The American' takes top spot by a nose

Tracking firm Hollywood.com Box-Office predicted summer attendance would come in at 552 million tickets sold, a 2.6 percent drop from last year, and the lowest since 1997 when 540 million were sold. It forecast summer receipts of $4.35 billion, up 2.4 percent from last summer’s record levels. Final tallies will be released on Tuesday.

Movies released in 3D, such as “Toy Story 3,” “Cats & Dogs,” “Despicable Me,” and “The Last Airbender,” allowed movie theaters to charge an average premium of $3 per ticket. In some markets, this pushed the ticket price to almost $20. The average ticket price for all movies was $7.88, according to Hollywood.com Box-Office.

Sales are expected to remain weak for the next few weeks as the studios dump their under-performers so that they can focus on prestige pictures catering to awards voters and on holiday-season crowd-pleasers.

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