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A Monster Box Office

Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein stomped the Olsen twins in the first major box-office contest of the summer blockbuster season. Monster-hunting adventure "Van Helsing" opened at No. 1 with $54.2 million.

Mary-Kate and Ashley's comedy "New York Minute," a major test of the direct-to-video starlets' theatrical prowess as they near age 18, debuted in fourth place with $6.2 million - a weak showing compared to the popularity of other recent teen comedies like "13 Going on 30" and "Mean Girls."

"Mean Girls" fell to second place in its second week with $14 million, while Denzel Washington's "Man on Fire" continued its robust run with $7.9 million in its third week, raising its total to $56 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"Van Helsing," which stars Hugh Jackman as a fearsome creature-slayer, also earned another $53 million internationally after opening simultaneously in 41 countries, according to Universal Pictures, which released the movie.

The first-weekend ticket sales landed between director Stephen Sommers' two previous monster smashes - "The Mummy," which had $43.3 million in 1999, and "The Mummy Returns," which had $68.1 million in 2001.

"We went in hoping we had 'The Mummy' and it's better," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. "We tried to create a brand that had global potential."

The movie received a huge franchise push from Universal, accompanied by a "Van Helsing" video game, an animated DVD prequel "Van Helsing: The London Assignment" and a "Van Helsing"-themed haunted house attraction at Universal Studios theme park.

"It's celebration time," Rocco said.

Among those not celebrating were the Olsens. "New York Minute" failed to build an older teen following on top of their core fan base of very young children. About 80 percent of the tickets went to girls under the age of 11, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released the comedy.

"We were hoping to expand the audience a bit, but unfortunately we were not able to do that," he said, adding that the studio had higher hopes for its home-video prospects.

With more big-budget movies on the way, there's a tense road ahead for most studios as costs have risen dramatically over the previously alarming $100-million budgets of yore.

"Van Helsing" cost about $160 million to produce and is the first of many movies this summer that approach or cross that budget threshold, from "Spider-Man 2" and the ancient epic "Troy" to "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and the weather-run-amok disaster film "The Day After Tomorrow."

The rising costs are a risky proposition for studios, since most summer films have only one shot at recouping a portion of their investment before fading away amid the competition. Most of the movies will have to wait until their home video releases to begin showing a profit.

"This is the opening salvo in the summer movie sweepstakes," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. "The summer season is the season of the opening weekend. You have to make your mark right then at the beginning, because the next weekend audiences are going to be looking for the next big thing."

The overall box-office earnings were $102. 8 million – about equal to the same time last year when "X2: X-Men United" was the top movie, followed by "Daddy Day Care" and "The Lizzie McGuire Movie."

The following are the numbers according to Hollywood.com:

  1. "Van Helsing," $54.2 million.
  2. "Mean Girls," $14 million.
  3. "Man on Fire," $7.9 million.
  4. "New York Minute," $6.2 million.
  5. "13 Going on 30," $5.5 million.
  6. "Laws of Attraction," $3.5 million.
  7. "Kill Bill - Vol. 2," $3 million.
  8. "Godsend," $2.7 million.
  9. "Envy," $2.6 million.
  10. "The Punisher," $1.2 million.

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