Aaliyah Is Box Office Queen

Six months after perishing in a plane crash, R&B singer Aaliyah grabbed the crown at the North American weekend box office with her vampire film "Queen of the Damned."

According to studio estimates issued Sunday, "Queen of the Damned" grossed $15.2 million for its first three days of release beginning Feb. 22, while the Denzel Washington drama "John Q." slipped to No. 2 with $12.5 million.

The top 10 contained one other new release, Kevin Costner's supernatural drama "Dragonfly," which opened at No. 3 with $10.4 million.

Based on the third book of Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles," "Queen of the Damned" features a bronzed Aaliyah as a 6,000-year-old Egyptian vampire bent on ruling the Earth. The film's nominal star, Irish actor Stuart Townsend, plays Lestat, the role essayed by Tom Cruise in 1994's "Interview With the Vampire."

Women under the age of 25 accounting for one-third of the ticket buyers for "Queen", said Dan Fellman, president of distribution at Warner Bros. The film was budgeted at a modest $30 million, and he termed the opening "solid." Aaliyah, 22, died when her light plane crashed on take-off in the Bahamas last Aug. 25.

"Dragonfly," a $60 million film in which Costner plays a medic haunted by his dead wife, also skewed female, said Universal Pictures distribution president Nikki Rocco. Unusually, Universal representatives handed out letters to guests at advance screenings seeking the studio's help in "not revealing any of the plot revelations."

After 10 days in release, "John Q." has grossed $39.9 million, and should end up in the $70 million-$75 million range, said a spokesman for New Line Cinema. The health care satire stars Washington as a desperate father who takes an emergency room hostage in order to secure a heart transplant for his dying son.

Director Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding" had an impressive debut in limited release, grossing $66,000 at two New York City theaters. The ensemble comedy follows the clash of tradition and modern times during frenzied preparations for a wedding in Delhi, India.

Distributor USA Films plans to expand the film to more cities over the next two weekends.

Overall, the top 12 films grossed $85.5 million, up 14 percent from the same weekend last year. For the first two months of the year, Hollywood's revenues are running virtually even with the pace of last year, when the industry grossed a record $8.35 billion.

The early part of 2001 was dominated by "Hannibal," a February release that grossed $165 million. This year has not yet produced a major hit, but a string of new films have opened solidly, while holdovers from last year drew strong audiences.

Top Oscar nominees continue to benefit from the awards attention. "A Beautiful Mind" grossed $5.2 million, raising its total to $132.6 million. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" took in $3.6 million, climbing to $283.3 million overall.

"I would characterize it as status quo, week in and weeout," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "There hasn't been a runaway blockbuster so far like we sometimes have at this point. But newcomers are generating interest, holdovers and Oscar contenders are generating interest."

The combat film "Black Hawk Down" took in $3.7 million, pushing its total to $101.4 million. It was the 19th movie released in 2001 to cross the $100 million mark, compared with a record 22 films the year before.

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

1. "Queen of the Damned," $15.2 million.

2. "John Q," $12.5 million.

3. "Dragonfly," $10.4 million.

4. "Return to Never Land," $9 million.

5. "Crossroads," $7.1 million.

6. "Big Fat Liar," $6.7 million.

7. "A Beautiful Mind," $5.2 million.

8. "Hart's War," $4.6 million.

9. "Super Troopers," $3.9 million.

10. "Collateral Damage," $3.7 million.

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