LOS ANGELES -- Jet Li's Chinese martial-arts epic "Hero" relegated four new movies to the nether regions of the box office in what ended up as one of the most feeble Labor Day weekends in memory.
"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 holiday was particularly slow.
"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 its US release.
It's the competition that proved to be lacking.
Four 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 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" 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 costars Queen Latifah, Ja Rule, and Danny Glover, debuted with $6.10 million for ninth place.