SUNDAY: I’m told attendance for Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center was up a surprising 26% Saturday compared to Friday. It was the clearest indication yet that positive word of mouth was beginning to spread about the well-reviewed Paramount movie whose ticket sales have been slow. Though WTC is expected to end the weekend only No. 3 with $19 mil, its 5-day opening cume will be $26.8 million (including $7.2 mil for Saturday). Despite opening with weak per-screen averages and amid breaking terror plot news, the emotional film is starting to attract an audience because of its hot button (and heart-wrenching) subject matter. Still, America spent the weekend continuing this summer’s clear pattern of seeking escapism at the box office. Sony’s NASCAR spoof Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby sped back into No. 1 and a cume of $91.2 mil by increasing attendance 20% Saturday from Friday for $8.6 mil. That includes a terrific $23 mil (-51%) for its first 10 days on the track. Disney/Touchstone’s Step Up faded Saturday, down 23% for $6.6 mil, but muscled enough energy to dance into 2nd place with a surprisingly good opening weekend take of $21 mil. (Weekend figures include Sunday estimates). Paramount’s kiddie fare Barnyard moo’ed up $10 mil its second weekend out for 4th place, while The Weinstein Co. / Dimension’s horror flick Pulse scared up $8.5 mil for 5th. Disney’s blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest hauled in another $7.2 mil for a total domestic b.o. of $392.4 mil — so it should reach $400 mil domestically next weekend out. Finally, Sony’s Zoom should have been renamed Doom opening to a pathetic $4.6 mil.

OVERSEAS UPDATE: ‘Pirates’ Sequel No. 1 Overseas For 6th Straight Week; #11 All-Time Worldwide. I’m told that, in addition to its $392.4 million U.S. box office gross, Disney’s blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest is No. 1 internationally for six straight weeks. The Johnny Depp starrer did $44 million this weekend bringing the overseas total to $463 million. So worldwide the total is a whopping $855 million — making it the 11th highest grossing movie of all time. That’s many spots higher than Sony’s The Da Vinci Code which is logging $752 mil worldwide for 21st place. This weekend, Disney added one new territory, Spain, and it surged to the biggest opening of all time there stealing 75% of all ticket sales. (The all-time No. 1 is still Titanic with $1.8 billion.) Meanwhile, Depp is consistently leading Internet search lists for Hollywood celebrities. So he’ll end the summer as the biggest star in the world.

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SATURDAY: I’m told that moviegoers were seeking escapism Friday as a teen dancer and a NASCAR spoof both bested Oliver Stone’s wrenching . Box office gurus were in agreement that Paramount’s  will be hurt at the box office by the airline terror plot. But before the news even broke, the weak per-screen averages for the movie’s Wednesday opening showed that filmgoers just weren’t in a serious mindset for the well-reviewed film. Also debated was the timing of the film’s release with experts believing might have opened better in late September or October. The surprise No. 1 movie was Disney / Touchstone’s which advertised heavily on the Internet and performed better than expected Friday to take in $8.6 million for what is expected to be a $21 mil opening weekend. Sony’s continued strong its second weekend out with $7.2 mil Friday but analysts believe Saturday’s numbers could go up enough for the movie to end No. 1 again. ‘s box office gross Friday was $5.9 mil, so the best Fri-Sat-Sun take expected is in the neighborhood of $17 mil and $25 mil for the 5-day long weekend. (But early tracking predicted the heart-tugger might earn as much as $30 mil for the 5-day total.)

Other movies opening were The Weinstein Co./Dimension’s horror flick , which finished 4th Friday with $3.4 mil for what will be only a $10 mil weekend, and Sony’s , which dead-ended 7th Friday with $1.5 mil for a $4.5 mil weekend. Paramount’s kiddie holdover was 5th Friday earning $3.0 mil for what will be a $9 mil second weekend out. And Disney’s hauled in another $2.1 mil at the box office Friday for 6th place as it heads towards its $400 mil domestic take. Boosted by a summer of success in all four sectors (movies, TV, theme parks and consumer products), Disney reported 40% growth in revenue this quarter, which, combined, resulted in an increase of net income to $1.13 billion, or 53 cents per share, from $811 million or 39 cents per share a year ago. Another studio with good news to report was Sony Pictures Entertainment which boasted it had crossed $1 billion in domestic box office receipts this year for the 5th year in a row.