The North American box office reached a record $7.45bn in 2000, up 2% from last year's $7.31bn, according to early estimates from box office data organisation ACNielsen EDI which is scheduled to reveal its final figures tomorrow.

The record had looked unlikely earlier in the year after a disappointing summer (down 5% from 1999) and a grim September. However, once Meet The Parents and Remember The Titans hit in early October, audiences started returning to theatres in time for a spectacular Thanksgiving courtesy of Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas and - over the Christmas holiday period - Cast Away and What Women Want.

The four day New Year weekend brought in $181.8m thanks to a powerful $40m four day gross from Fox's Cast Away and a third weekend take of $26.4m from What Women Want; that total was just short of the record-breaking Memorial Day weekend gross of $184.8m.

In the hotly contested studio market share league, the margin between Buena Vista and Universal was so slight that it could not be confirmed at time of going to press. By Dec 28, Buena Vista was in the lead by some $16.1m but the New Year weekend saw Universal take in $27m over Disney's $22.3m, narrowing the gap to almost presidential slightness. ACNeilsen EDI was unprepared to commit either way until the official numbers were tallied, although Buena Vista issued a press release yesterday claiming victory.

It is the sixth time in the last seven years that Buena Vista has won the domestic crown even though it didn't release any of the year's top six films. Among the films which accounted for its success are Dinosaur, Remember The Titans, Gone In 60 Seconds, Unbreakable, Fantasia 2000, Shanghai Noon and Coyote Ugly.

Universal's hits were led by The Grinch, Meet The Parents, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, U-571 and Bring It On.