With the televised war and a lack of major openers creating the lowest domestic box office in two months, Buena Vista's Bringing Down the House held on to top spot for the third successive weekend, grossing an estimated $16.2m for an $83.4m running total.
The comedy has traded strongly on its feel-good appeal during troubled times and is expected to finish in the $120m-$130m range. It was a close race for number one, however, as Warner Bros/Castle Rock's horror picture Dreamcatcher opened second on $15.3m.
MGM's teen adventure Agent Cody Banks dropped one place to third, adding $9.3m in its second week for a $26.2m cumulative score. In fourth place was Miramax's new comedy, View From The Top, which took $7.6m.
Chicago maintained momentum in its 13th week, falling one place to sixth on $6.2m for a superb $134.1m. The Broadway adaptation is sure to be boosted by its Oscar wins last night.
Elsewhere Buena Vista opened Piglet's Big Movie in seventh on $6.1m, while Artisan's poorly received comedy Boat Trip had a disappointing tenth place bow on $3.7m.
In the poorly reviewed Dreamcatcher, adapted from the Stephen King novel by director Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman, four telepathic friends stage an annual reunion in a snowbound hunting lodge and encounter an alien threat. Thomas Jane, Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore star and the picture averaged $5,196 from 2,945 theatres.
View From The Top sees Gwyneth Paltrow play an ambitious flight attendant who is determined to reach the heights of her profession. Christina Applegate, Candice Bergen and Kelly Preston co-star in the critically panned film directed by Bruno Barreto in his first since 1999's Bossa Nova. The picture averaged $3,015 from 2,508 sites.
Piglet's Big Movie impressed the critics and sees Pooh Bear's legendary sidekick embark on some new adventures of his own. Disney executives will be hoping for an animated hit following the disappointing recent releases of Treasure Planet ($38.1m) and The Jungle Book 2 ($43.7m after five weeks). Francis Glebas directed the film which averaged $2,927 from 2,084 theatres.
Artisan's Boat Trip finds Cuba Gooding Jr and friend accidentally booking a place on a gay singles cruise. Vivica A Fox and Roger Moore co-star and Mort Nathan directed in what was his feature debut. The picture had dire reviews and scored a $2,158 per-screen average from 1,714 sites.
Paramountis romantic comedy How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days fell four to 11th but closed in on the $100m mark. It grossed $3.1m in its seventh week for a $98.4m cumulative score.
Overall box office for the top 12 pictures was $84m, which represented a 29% drop compared to the same period last year.
While events in the Middle East took their toll on audience numbers, the low box office also reflected a dearth of strong openers. This time last year New Line's Blade 2 opened on $32.5m and Fox's high-grossing Ice Age was going into its second week.
Next weekendis releases include Columbia/Intermedia's war thriller Basic, starring John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson, reunited for the first time since 1994's Pulp Fiction; Paramount's environmental action picture The Core, starring Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank; and Dreamworks' comedy Head Of State, which stars Chris Rock and Bernie Mac.
Estimated Top Ten US March 21-March 23, 2003
Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend
gross/Estimated total to date
1 (1) Bringing Down The House (Buena Vista) BVI $16.2m $83.4m
2 (-) Dreamcatcher (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $15.3m --
3 (2) Agent Cody Banks (MGM) 20th Century Fox $9.3m $26.6m
4 (-) View From The Top (Miramax) Miramax International $7.6m --
5 (3) The Hunted (Paramount) Lakeshore International $6.6m $23.4m
6 (5) Chicago (Miramax) Miramax International $6.2m $134.1m
7 (-) Piglet's Big Movie (Buena Vista) BVI $6.1m --
8 (4) Tears Of The Sun (Columbia/Revolution) Columbia TriStar $4.5m $37.9m
9 (6) Old School (DreamWorks) UIP $4m $67.1m
10 (-) Boat Trip (Artisan) MPCA $3.7m