Zombie thriller 'Resident Evil' leads box office

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LOS ANGELES, Sep 24 (Reuters) Milla Jovovich blasted more zombies to oblivion in the new box office champ ''Resident Evil: Extinction,'' while several Oscar hopefuls made a big splash a mere four months before nominations are announced.

''Resident Evil: Extinction,'' the third film in the videogame-inspired sci-fi franchise, sold about 24 million dollars worth of tickets across the United States and Canada in the three days since opening Friday, a record for the series, distributor Sony Pictures said.

The first film, ''Resident Evil,'' started with 17.7 million dollars in 2002, while 2004's ''Resident Evil: Apocalypse'' launched with 23 million dolars. Jovovich reprises her role as a renegade action heroine who leads a band of post-apocalyptic survivors against thousands of rampaging zombies.

The top-10 contained two other new releases that took advantage of the traditional post-summer lull to score some quick sales before heading to DVD: the comedies ''Good Luck Chuck'' at No. 2 with a modest 14 million dollars, and ''Sydney White'' at No. 6 with a paltry 5.3 million dollars.

''Good Luck Chuck,'' released by Lionsgate, stars comedian Dane Cook in the title role, while Jessica Alba plays his pratfall-prone muse. ''Sydney White,'' released by Universal Pictures on behalf of independent producer Morgan Creek, stars Amanda Bynes as a freshman college student.

OSCAR RACE BEGINS Last weekend's champ, the Jodie Foster vigilante thriller ''The Brave One,'' fell to No. 3 with 7.4 million dollars, taking its 10-day total to .1 million. The film was released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Among the films hoping for some Oscar recognition were Canadian director David Cronenberg's mobster movie ''Eastern Promises,'' which jumped 16 places to No. 5 with 5.7 million dollars, a week after opening in limited release. The Focus Features release stars Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts.

The strongest performer among films opening in limited release was director Sean Penn's ''Into the Wild,'' based on the bestseller about a young man's ill-fated plan to reconnect with nature in the unforgiving Alaska wilderness. The Paramount Vantage release sold 206,596 dollars worth of tickets from a total of four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and will expand over five weeks.

''The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'' earned 144,000 dollars from five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. Brad Pitt stars as the infamous outlaw, and Casey Affleck as his killer.

In its second week of limited release Sony Pictures' Beatle-flavored musical ''Across the Universe'' jumped four places to No. 13 with 2.1 million dollars from 276 theaters.

Sony Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp. Lionsgate is a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc. Universal Pictures and Focus Features are units of General Electric Co. NBC Universal Inc. Paramount Vantage is a unit of Viacom Inc.

REUTERS ARB AS0901

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