The Chinese have done well at the Olympics in Greece, and the world's most populous nation also scored a triumph at the American box office as Zhang Yimou's Hero, a stirring martial arts epic about the founding of the Chinese state, took the top spot with an estimated $17.8 million. 


Playing at over 2000 theaters, Hero, which stars Jet Li, averaged a solid $8,765 per theater, almost double the average of Anacondas: The Hunt for Blood Orchid, which earned $13.2 million, but played on nearly 50% more screens. 


Hero's first place finish is attributable to the quality of the film itself (it has earned rave reviews from critics) and to a dearth of quality competition during this traditionally slow end of summer period. 


Miramax, which has been guilty of excessive tampering with previous Asian cinema releases, wisely allowed this masterpiece to be shown to American audiences in its original form.  Hero is good enough that word of mouth should keep it in theaters for a while and ComicsOne has a full color adaptation of the film for retailers who want to take advantage of this opportunity. 


After next weekend we should have a better idea of whether or not Hero will be able to challenge Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the top-grossing foreign language film of all time.


In its third week of release Aliens vs. Predator dropped to #8 earning some $4.8 million and bringing its cumulative total to $72 million.  The film, which reportedly cost about $60 million to make, will likely finish its domestic run under $100 million.  Spider-Man 2 fell to the sixteenth spot, earning $1.5 million and bringing its total to $367.  In spite of the fact that in the eyes of many critics and fans, the Spidey sequel is better than the original, its mid-summer debut appears to have made duplicating the original Spider-Man's box office performance impossible.


Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie earned just $1.3 million and plummeted to #17 during its third frame -- the card giveaway really frontloaded the box office on this one -- but it will likely end up with $20 million, which will probably be enough to make it the anime box office champ in the U.S. in 2004.