Batman Begins swooped to the top of the NorthAmerican box office chart over the weekend with an estimated three-day gross of$46.9m, bringing its tally since opening last Wednesday to $71.1m.

The impressive, if not spectacular totals were within therange expected by Warner Bros. But the weekend take was not big enough tofinally boost overall North American box office above last year's levels: thetotal estimated gross for the top ten films was slightly down on 2004 for the17th consecutive weekend.

Re-introducing the Warner/DC Comics franchise with the darkstory of Batman's beginnings, the new film, directed by Christopher Nolan andstarring Christian Bale, opened on 3,718 theatres in the US and Canada andexpanded on Friday to 3,858. Very strong reviews - and perhaps the high profileof co-star Katie Holmes - helped the film, the fifth in the modern Batmanseries, to a per-theatre average of $12,166 over the weekend.

The five-day opening total put Batman Begins aheadof the franchise's previous record holder, 1995's Batman Forever, whichgrossed $66m over its first five days. The new film's three-day weekend take,however, was a little below those for Batman Forever and 1992's BatmanReturns.

The male skew of Batman Begins left some femaleaudiences available for last weekend's top film, 20th Century Fox's Mr& Mrs Smith, which dropped to second place on the chart, falling arespectable 46% in its second week to an estimated $27.3m from 3,451 theatres.

In third place on the chart, DreamWorks' Madagascargrabbed most of the available children, falling only 35% in its fourth week to$11.1m from 3,533 theatres.

Fox's Star Wars: Episode III held up surprisinglywell, sliding one place to fourth with a modest 35% drop-off in its fifth weekto $9.7m from 2,923 theatres.

The weekend's only other new release was Universal's ThePerfect Man, a romantic comedy aimed at younger female fans of star HilaryDuff. Dismissed by reviewers, the film had limited counter-programming effect,taking an estimated $5.5m from 2,087 theatres, for a $2,625 average and seventhplace on the chart.

Among the weekend's other holdovers, Paramount's TheLongest Yard slipped from fourth to fifth with $8m from 3,312 theatres. Inits second week, Dimension's The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D,was down from fifth to sixth with $6.6 (down 47%) from 2,655 theatres.

Universal's struggling Cinderella Man took a 46% hitin its third week, dropping to eighth place with $5.2m from 2,610 theatres.

Warner Bros' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsfell to ninth place in its third week with $3.2m (down 44%) from 2,206theatres.

After opening in eighth place last week, Paramount's TheHoneymooners fell to the bottom of the top ten with $2.6m (down 54%) from1,912 theatres.

Limited releases included Focus Features' British drama MySummer of Love, which opened in 17 theatres, and IFC Films' Camera D'Orwinner Me And You And Everyone We Know. Figures were not available forthe former, but IFC said it expected Me And You to gross more than$28,000 from its single New York location.

Next weekend's wide releases are: Sony's TV sitcom update Bewitched,starring Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell; Buena Vista's seventies feature seriesrevival Herbie: Fully Loaded, featuring Lindsay Lohan; and Universal'szombie picture Land of the Dead, with horror legend George Romerodirecting Simon Baker and Dennis Hopper.

Estimated Top Ten US Jun 17-19 2005

Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimatedweekend

gross/Estimated total to date

1 (-) Batman Begins (Warner Bros) Warner BrosInternational $46.9m $71.1m

2 (1) Mr And Mrs Smith (Fox/Regency) Fox International/Regency/SummitEntertainment $27.3m $98.0m

3 (2) Madagascar (DreamWorks) UIP $11.1m $147.2m

4 (3) Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith(Fox) Fox Int'l $9.7m $347.8m

5 (4) The Longest Yard (Paramount) SPRI $8.0m$131.9m

6 (5) The Adventures Of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3D (Miramax)SPRI $6.6m $24.0m

7 (-) The Perfect Man (Universal) UIP $5.5m -

8 (6) Cinderella Man (Universal) BVI $5.2m $43.6m

9 (7) The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants (WarnerBros) Summit Entertainment $3.2m $30.2m

10 (8) The Honeymooners (Paramount) UIP $2.6m $9.5m