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SUNDAY AM: After an embarrassing summer season with few big movies to speak of and a lot of bombs that every other studio made fun of, Fox Filmed Entertainment is dominating this autumn weekend with the No. 1 and No. 3 movies. Very early weekend numbers showed that 20th Century Fox’s video game-turned-motion picture aimed at males, Max Payne, opened with $7.1 million Friday and $6.5M Saturday from 3,376 North American theaters for an $18M weekend. That’s about what the studio projected for Mark Wahlberg’s PG-13 starrer. “It’s a good start,” one analyst told me. “But this is a film that will drop like a lead balloon. Is Fox going to be happy with a $38 mil domestic box office on this film?” Coming in at No. 3 was Fox Searchlight’s female-skewing we-are-family film based on the bestselling book The Secret Life Of Bees that’s playing in only 1,591 venues. It opened with $3.5 million Friday and $4.4 million Saturday for an $11M for the weekend and the best per screen average of all the movies in the Top 10. But I told you not to count out Disney’s dog pic Beverly Hills Chihuahua which made $11.2M due to crowded matinees and slipped into No. 2. Its new cume is $69M.

Yet the real surprise this weekend was Oliver Stone’s W. There was tremendous curiosity not just in Hollywood but also in political circles nationwide surrounding the George W Bush biopic’s North American weekend gross, with predictions ranging wildly from a low of $5 million to a high of $12 million. On Friday, it opened No. 2 with $3.8M from 2,030 theaters, then on Saturday fell to #4 with $4.1M for a $10.5M weekend. That’s what its producers’ projections.

EXCLUSIVE: *I’ve learned that the exit polling showed that among W. filmgoers, 89% disapprove of Bush. In addition, 78% are voting for Obama, 6% are voting for McCain, and 6% don’t know. Moviergoers were 52%/48% male vs female. And a whopping 47% were over age 40. The audience was overwhelmingly liberal at 55%, followed by moderates at 31%, conservatives at 10%, and those who don’t care about politics 5%. The audience was primarily white at 66%, with African Americans at 10% and all other ethnic groups less than 10%. Most attended because of the prospect of making fun of Bush (42%), or because of Oliver Stone as director (41%), or because the preview looked good (39%), or because of the prospect of humor (33%). In terms of expectations, only 27% felt the movie was better than expected, with 38% feeling it was not as good as expected (this was consistent across all groups, especially liberals), and 35% felt it was as good as expected.  Those who disapprove of Bush felt very strongly that the movie was not as good as expected.*

W.‘s on-target debut still doesn’t mean the movie will recoup its $30M mil budget, plus $25M marketing costs that included a surprisingly aggressive TV ad campaign emphasizing the script’s humor. True, Hollywood never bets the farm on political fiction pics because they usually don’t attract crowds. Small budget Wag The Dog and Bullworth receved a lot of attention but not a lot of business. Studio pic Primary Colors disappointed. Stone’s own JFK was wildly successful, but his Nixon underperformed. Of course, none of these pics were biopics about a sitting U.S. president. It also served the pic well that Lionsgate had experience with this kind of controversial film: it released Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 which went on to open with a $24M weekend from just 868 theaters, and an eventual worldwide total of $222M. W. won’t be in that league.

Forget Summit Entertainment’s Sex Drive because everyone else did (and should have). The umpteenth rauchy teenage sex comedy opened the weekend to just $3.5M from 2,421 dates for 9th place. ”It’s a huge disaster,” one film financing source told me. “They spent close to $25 mil and the film won’t break $7.5 million box office when all is said and done. And given its subject matter, I’m sure they did not sell this well overseas. So this has to be a major, major writedown for Summit.”

Neck and neck were DreamWorks / Paramount’s Eagle Eye, whick placed 5th with $7.3M and a new $81.3M cume, and Warner Bros’s Body Of Lies, which finished 6th with a $6.8M FSS and still anemic $24.4M cume. I was very hard on costly Body Of Lies last weekend because rival studios told me it should be retitled “Body Bag” when it didn’t live up to expectations despite the talented moviemaking team of Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott. But the war-on-terror spy thriller was #1 at the box office Monday through Thursday. “Just maybe the Body sat up in the coffin,” one of the studio’s bigwigs emailed me.

The rest of the Top 10 were veterans. In 7th place, Screen Gems/Sony’s horror flick Quarantine was good for a $6.3M weekend and fresh cume of $24.6M. And Sony’s tween/teen comedy Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist snagged #8 with a $3.9M weekend and new $26.7M FSS. Finally, in the 10th spot, Warner Bros’ mature romance Nights In Rodanthe earned $2.6M for the weekend and new $36.8M cume — just edging out Provident/Samuel Goldwyn’s faith-based firefighter saga Fireproof which continues to surprise with its $2.6M FSS and new $20.7M cume.

It’s looking like another $104M total box office weekend, up 7.8% over last year.

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.