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‘Hero’ is champion at the box office

LOS ANGELES -- "Hero," Jet Li's acclaimed martial-arts epic, vanquished giant snakes, serial killers, and a gang of superbabies to debut as the top weekend film with $17.8 million.

"Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid," a sequel to 1997's monster-serpent flick, opened in second with $13.2 million, according to studio estimates yesterday.

The weekend's other new movies debuted weakly. The serial-killer tale "Suspect Zero," starring Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, and Carrie-Anne Moss, came in at No. 10 with $3.4 million.

"Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2," a follow-up to the 1999 kid flick, finished at No. 11 with $3.3 million.

The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, "Exorcist: The Beginning," tumbled to fifth place with $6.7 million, a steep 63 percent drop from its $18.1 million debut.

Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $84.7 million, virtually unchanged from a year ago.

With Hollywood's summer season wrapping up over Labor Day weekend, the industry will finish slightly ahead of summer 2003's revenue record of $3.9 billion. But factoring in higher prices, the number of tickets sold will lag a bit behind last summer's total.

"Hero" opened in 2,031 theaters, unusually wide for a foreign-language movie. "We believed in the movie and went for it," said Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax.

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