"Hero" ranked No. 1 by collecting an estimated $11.5 million over the four-day holiday, which is traditionally a slow time at movie theaters as many people try to enjoy their last big summer weekend outdoors.
But this one was particularly low.
"Talk about ending the summer with a whimper," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. "This is the lowest-grossing No. 1 film of the year, and one of the lowest grossing Labor Day weekends that I've ever seen."
The total $35.2 million haul for "Hero" is still excellent for a critically acclaimed Mandarin-language epic about ancient China that sat on a shelf for nearly three years before being released in the United States.
It's the competition that proved to be lacking.
Four new movies debuted in theaters this week: the Josh Hartnett romantic thriller "Wicker Park"; the Mel Gibson-produced "Paparazzi" about overzealous celebrity photographers; Reese Witherspoon's take on the 19th century class-warfare novel "Vanity Fair"; and the hip-hop comedy "The Cookout."
All had lackluster showings.
"For 'Hero' to take on all the newcomers and still be No. 1 is impressive," Dergarabedian said.
"Paparazzi" ranked highest at No. 4 with $7.8 million, following two holdovers from previous weeks. The lost-in-the-woods parody "Without a Paddle" came in second in its third week with $9.4 million, and "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid," a sequel to 1997's monster-serpent adventure, was No. 3 with $8 million in its second week.
"Wicker Park" ranked sixth with $6.7 million, while "Vanity Fair" came in eighth with $6.12 million for the four-day weekend. It opened on Wednesday to mediocre reviews, which are devastating for a highbrow adaptation like this.
"The Cookout," which co-starred Queen Latifah, Ja Rule and Danny Glover, debuted with $6.10 million for ninth place.
"None of them even made a dent," Dergarabedian said of the newcomers. "They really didn't perform that well or resonate with audiences. ... People were more satisfied with the films that were already in the marketplace."
Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $83.4 million, about 21 percent lower than the same time last year when "Jeepers Creepers 2" led the box office.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Tuesday.
1. "Hero," $11.5 million.
2. "Without a Paddle," $9.4 million.
3. "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid," $8 million.
4. "Paparazzi," $7.8 million.
5. "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," $7.3 million.
6. "Wicker Park," $6.7 million.
7. "Collateral," $6.5 million
8. "Vanity Fair," $6.12 million.
9. "The Cookout," $6.10 million.
10. "The Bourne Supremacy," $5.4 million.