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<i>Stigmata</i> Stifles <i>Sixth Sense</i>

In a scary battle among three fearful competitors, Stigmata scared up more moviegoers over the weekend by beating out the five-week reigning champion The Sixth Sense.

Stigmata, featuring Patricia Arquette as a hairdresser who manifests the wounds of Christ and Gabriel Byrne as a priest sent to investigate, earned $19.3 million in its box-office debut, while The Sixth Sense took in $17 million.

Stir of Echos came in third with $6.2 million. Its star, Kevin Bacon, goes on a supernatural journey after being hypnotized. All three films helped boost the weekend tally toward abnormal heights, according to estimates released Sunday by Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.

Generally, the months after the summer movie season have seen a drop in box-office receipts. However, this weekend's ticket sales were 37 percent ahead of the same weekend last year, said Robert Bucksbaum, an analyst at Reel Source, Inc.

"The horror genre rejuvenated the marketplace. The opening films came at the perfect time when the genre is just scorching," he said.

Even though The Sixth Sense dropped to No. 2 in its sixth week, it still garnered a respectable turnout with the help of repeat business, said Chuck Viane, head of distribution at Buena Vista. The movie stars Bruce Willis as a therapist who helps a boy who communicates with ghosts.

"I think the end is so satisfying and so surprising that people walk out of the theater and just can't wait to see it again," he said.

With Stigmata, the struggling distributor MGM had two movies in the top 10 as The Thomas Crown Affair tied for sixth place, earning $2.9 million in its sixth week.

"It's been a long time since MGM has had two movies in the top 10. We're very pleased," said Larry Gleason, president of worldwide distribution. "We're back again as a serious contender."

The only other new movie to open in wide release, Love Stinks, starring Tyra Banks in a story about dumping the one you love, didn't make the top 10.

Opening in limited release, Minus Man, a mystery about a likable drifter who disappears, earned a per-screen average of $8,000.

Estimated grosses for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters:

  1. Stigmata, $19.3 million.
  2. The Sixth Sense, $17 million.
  3. Stir of Echoes, $6.2 million.
  4. Runaway Bride, $3.9 million.
  5. Bowfinger, $3.7 million.
  6. (tie) The 13th Warrior, $2.9 million.
  7. (tie) The Thomas Crown Affair, $2.9 million.
  8. Mickey Blue Eyes, $2.3 million.
  9. Chill Factor, $1.9 million.
  10. The Blair Witch Project, $1.6 million.

By Dara Akiko Williams