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Modest box office for ‘Sparkle’ ( + JET poll )

Emma (Whitney Houston) in TriStar Pictures' SPARKLE. The movie had a modest opening, despite the singer's appearance in her final role. / Photo: Alicia Gbur/ TriStar

LOS ANGELES — Sony’s musical remake, Sparkle, featuring American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston, was No. 5 at the box office this weekend, raking in $12 million. The update of the 1976 movie centers on three sisters who form a singing group in the late 1960s.

Sparkle was the first movie since 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife, for Houston, who died in February. The movie was produced on a small $14 million budget, so it will not be a financial burden to Sony despite its modest earnings.

A star’s death often boosts audience interest, as happened with Heath Ledger and the Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight or Michael Jackson and the hit music documentary Michael Jackson: This Is It.

That did not hold true for Sparkle, in which Houston had a supporting role as the stern but loving mother of the three singers.

“I don’t think that was ever in the cards where there was this sudden interest in seeing the movie,” said analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “There didn’t seem to be that kind of, ‘oh, it’s Whitney Houston’s last movie, we’ve got to go see it’ attitude.”

Sylvester Stallone and his beefy buddies in The Expendables 2 muscled their way to the top of the weekend box office with a $28.8 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The Bourne Legacy fell to No. 2 in its second weekend with $17 million, a steep 55 percent drop from its $38 million opening weekend.

Focus Features’ animated comedy “ParaNorman, about a boy leading the fight against zombies that rise from the grave, was No. 3 with $14 million.

The Campaign came in at No. 4, with $13.4 million.

The newcomers and holdovers combined to lift Hollywood’s overall business. Domestic revenues totaled $139 million, up 12 percent from the same weekend last year, when The Help led with $20 million, according to box-office tracker

This summer delivered huge hits such as The Avengers with $617.6 million domestically and The Dark Knight Rises, which took in $11.1 million this weekend to cross the $400 million mark and edge past The Hunger Games to become the year’s second-biggest hit.

But other releases such as Dark Shadows, Battleship,  The Watch and Total Recall were duds that failed to live up to the summer’s hype.

— Associated Press