Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones unleashed The Force over the weekend, zapping the competition and storming to the top of the charts with an estimated four-day gross of $116.3m.
George Lucas's fifth Star Wars instalment becomes the second fastest picture to pass $100m behind Columbia's Spider-Man and also bagged the highest weekday release of all time with Thursday's $30.1m.
Its subsequent Friday-to-Sunday tally of $86.2m makes Clones the third highest weekend opening ever behind Spider-Man ($114.8m earlier this month) and Warner Bros's Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone ($90.3m last November).
Thursday's haul is the sixth highest single day gross of all time, behind Spider-Man and Harry Potter, which together hold the top five scores. The picture averaged a huge $27,254 from 3,161 venues and its three-day gross is significantly higher than the $64.8m taken by Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace on its opening weekend in 1999. That picture went on to gross $431.09m and ranks fourth in the all-time list for North America and many expect Clones to end up in the same ball park, despite Lucas's stated lack of ambition in collecting box office records.
Clones is set ten years on from The Phantom Menace and failed to excite the critics. Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman reprise their roles as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padme Amidala respectively while newcomer Hayden Christensen plays the gifted rookie Jedi Anakin Skywalker, who will eventually become Darth Vader. While logic dictates that Anakin's transformation will occur in the sixth Star Wars movie, for this outing the troubled young character concerns himself with chasing bad guys and falling in love with Padme.
Spider-Man slipped to second spot with a record-breaking $46m third weekend haul. The Marvel Comics adaptation has now taken $286.5m in the North American market and Columbia chiefs expect it to pass $330m by the end of next weekend's Memorial Day holiday. The arachnid notched up another first when it passed $250m on Friday after 15 days on release, beating the previous record of 19 days held by The Phantom Menace.
The only other new release was Universal's About A Boy, which opened in fourth place with $8.4m and enjoyed good reviews across the board. The romantic comedy averaged $6,959 from 1,207 sites and stars Hugh Grant as a self-absorbed young man who falls in love after he devises a scam to meet single women. Fox's Richard Gere thriller Unfaithful fared well, taking $10.3m and dropping one place to third.
The twin attack of lightsabres and spiderwebs played its part in producing an overall weekend gross for the top 12 films of $170m, up 77% from the same period last year. The Memorial Day weekend record of $185.3m looks likely to fall next weekend with the big two expected to play well in cinemas and a pair of intriguing new releases, the Jennifer Lopez female empowerment thriller Enough and Robin Williams and Al Pacino in Insomnia, the latest thriller from Memento director Christopher Nolan.
ESTIMATED TOP TEN US MAY 17-19
Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date
1 (-) Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (Fox) Fox International $116.3m --
2 (1) Spider-Man (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $40.6m $286.5m
3 (2) Unfaithful (20th Century Fox) Fox International $10.3m n/a
4 (-) About a Boy (Universal) $8.4m --
5 (3) The New Guy (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $6.5m n/a
6 (5) Changing Lanes (Paramount) UIP/Mutual $3.1m n/a
7 (4) The Scorpion King (Universal) $2.7m n/a
8 (7) The Rookie (Buena Vista) BVI $2m n/a
9 (6) Murder by Numbers (Warner Brothers) $1.7m n/a
10 () My Big Fat Greek Wedding (IFC) $1.2m n/a